Last night I returned home after several days in New Mexico.
With a few co-workers, I attended a hardware upgrade party at NASA’s White Sands Complex – which is the earth-based end of the space links for the TDRSS. This fleet of large satellites is parked in orbit at such a distance that they go around the earth at the same speed that the earth rotates – so they appear to stay in the same place. From those lofty perches around the globe they are able to collect data from smaller satellites that orbit much closer to earth, and relay all that data back home.
Of course we are not allowed to take our own pictures, so Google found this one for me.
Of primary interest to us is the return-link telemetry stream from the International Space Station (ISS) that passes thru the Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRS), then thru the switches and routers at White Sands, and then by fiber-optic to my office building at MSFC. From there we distribute parts of it to the various international partners, as well as other organizations around the country. The current downlink capability of the ISS/TDRS network is ~150Mbits/sec, nearly continuously around the clock… We are developing plans to take that to ~300Mbits/sec.
There are two ground terminals at WSC and we have equipment at each one. Such a fascinating place, especially if you like high-rate data flows, and high-power RF pumps . . this place is like a fantasy world. Row after row of tall racks with complicated looking stuff, all neat and clean, well-identified, fully redundant, thoroughly documented and configuration managed, tightly scheduled, and highly respected. Such a feeling walking between the rows of humming power supplies, TWT oscillators, and hidden klystrons with unseen shiny waveguide. And then you step outside into the blazing New Mexico sun, and is it eerily quiet – unless the wind is howling. Far from man-made interference, this is truly a special place – ideally suited for this purpose.
I’m not sure what else there is to do out there, and since I don’t feel a need to be at work around the clock – I guess it’s a good thing I like it where I am.
Sure was good to get back home. Still, a very interesting trip.