VK1ALR Interview – Mission to make Curiosity count

Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex 70m Dish – Image Credit NASA

Prior to the Curiosity Mars landing this morning Aug 6, The Canberra Times interviewed radio amateur Len Ricardo VK1ALR, operations manager at the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, who will be providing a communications link for the Mars Curiosity Rover.

Len has had a passion for space since the launch of the first Sputnik mission in October 1957. A nine-year-old in Brisbane at the time, he watched the tiny white speck pass overhead in the night sky and heard the ”beep, beep, beep” signal on the evening news.

”I started to play at amateur radio at school and I had a crystal set I got for my birthday,” he said. ”I’m still a ham radio operator, I just never expected to have a set this big (indicating Tidbinbilla’s 70-metre dish which, since modifications in the 1980s, is now even larger than the 1950s instrument at Parkes).”

Read the full story at

The Mars rover, Curiosity,built at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, has Morse Code indentations on its wheels spelling out JPL. Read the ARRL story at http://www.arrl.org/news/new-mars-rover-to-feature-morse-code

Radio Amateurs received the Mars Science Laboratory on its way to Mars http://www.uk.amsat.org/?p=2578

E2V imaging sensors from Chelmsford in Essex were used in the Curiosity rover

NASA lands car-size Rover beside Martian mountain http://www.uk.amsat.org/?p=9409

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has a UHF transponder “MELACOM” (401 to 437 MHz) and 2 patch antennas to communicate with any landed asset on Mars surface supporting the CCSDS Proximity-1 protocol. Read the paper Mars Express and the NASA landers and rovers on Mars – Sustaining a backup relay in an interplanetary network http://www.spaceops2012.org/proceedings/documents/id1295328-Paper-003.pdf

Curiosity transmits around 401 MHz but the transponder on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has a CCSDS Forward Frequency in the 437 MHz Amateur-Satellite Service band. The 435-438 MHz is shared with the Military but 432-438 MHz is of course a Space SAR Band, and I understand general Space usage extends beyond that. This paper describes the operation of the MRO (see page 34 onwards)

This artist’s animation shows how NASA’s Curiosity rover will communicate with Earth via two of NASA’s Mars orbiters, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Odyssey. As the rover descends to the surface of Mars, it will send out two different types of data: basic radio-frequency tones that go directly to Earth (pink dashes) and more complex UHF radio data (blue circles). Odyssey will pick up the UHF signal and relay it immediately back to Earth (seen as a beam of small blue circles). Meanwhile, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will record the UHF data and play it back to Earth at a later time.

Back on Earth, the rover’s signals are picked up by large antenna dishes at NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN), which has three complexes in Goldstone, Calif., Madrid, Spain and Canberra, Australia. The DSN sends the information to Curiosity’s mission control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Calif. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Communicating with Curiosity

The artist’s animation depicts how NASA’s Curiosity rover will communicate with Earth during landing. As the rover descends to Mars, it will send out basic radio-frequency tones that go directly to Earth. NASA’s Odyssey orbiter will then relay more complex UHF radio signals from the rover to Earth.

Curiosity Speaks