Early this week on 24th April 2018, NASA had a news release. The announcement was about an upgrade. It will affect a ground station which is the backup system for communications with the International Space Station (ISS). It is the supplement of the Space Network of NASA. The main one works using patterns of Tracking and Data Relay Satellites that form in the geostationary orbit.

Unlike that one, this backs up one sustains a system of ground stations. They not only transmit but also receives very high frequencies radio waves (VHF). There are two frequencies namely VHF1 as well as VHF2. The latter communicates with the ISS only if the main one fails. The communications are in form of audio only. For VHF2, its function begins when Soyuz is out of range of the Russian VHF ground stations. As a result, the ISS together with the Soyuz spacecraft has a reliable communication for each orbit. Here are details of the upgrade.

The focus of the upgrade will be to ameliorate the electronic components. In addition to that, there will be the installation of new software. It will enable tracking of both the ISS and Soyuz. Due to chances of either VHF1 or VHF2 failing, the improvement has a remedy. It will see to it that installation of new antennas occurs on the ground station. Therefore, the operation of both frequencies will be simultaneous. The duplicate data will be of help after a failure of either.

According to Mark Severance, both the safety of the crew and the success of a mission relies on reliable communications. Severance is NASA’s director of human spaceflight communications and tracking network. He feels that the combination of the agency’s VHF network with that of Russia does the trick. Given his position, I can’t imagine a better person to know that.

The director also pointed out why the upgrade was necessary. It would ensure that the VHF ground stations will always be ready in case of an emergency. In addition to that, it is great for backup. Their failure after one by the main station would leave a lot to be desired. That would also mean that the resources put in place are a waste.

There are two VHF ground stations of NASA that cover North America. Their locations are Wallops Island, Virginia and Armstrong Flight Research Center of NASA, California. The VHF ground station of Russia covers the ISS when it is in Europe or Asia.

The Goddard Space Flight Center of NASA manages both its VHF ground stations and The Space Network. The upgrade will enhance the communication of the former if the latter fails.