SBC Desert’s Goldstone Complex Serves As Electronic Portal To The Universe

FORT IRWIN—At a remote reach of San Bernardino County, the second largest rotating antenna in the world probes the heavens perpetually, monitoring broadcasts from a host of earth-launched space exploratory vehicles and listening for extraterrestrial radio frequency emanations.
Known as Deep Space Station 14, the device was commissioned for construction by NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, in 1965 and completed the following year.  It is 236 feet high, and was designed to be capable of rotating on its axis without restrictions  so that it can be vectored in every conceivable direction and cover the entirety of the sky.
Deep Space Station 14 is surrounded by  eleven smaller space antennas on a 52-square mile portion of 997-square mile Fort Irwin referred to as the  Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex, commonly called the Goldstone Observatory.
Goldstone’s isolated location, far from the bustle and electronic clutter of competing radio signals that can interfere with transmissions to or from space, assists in its mission of plucking from the ether signals that must travel hundreds of thousands, millions, tens of millions, hundreds of millions or even billions of miles to reach earth.
Deep Space Station 14 and its sister devices have been trained on the heavens to pick up potential radio or electronic emanations from within our own solar system, outside our solar system but within our galaxy, distant galaxies or points beyond, as the case may be. Deep Station 14 was used for monitoring transmissions from the Apollo program, which included nine missions that achieved an orbit around the moon and six successful lunar landings.  In more recent years, it has been used to communicate with unmanned space vehicles charting the extreme end of our solar system, including fly-bys past Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, which scientists now say is not a planet at all. Deep Space Station 14 and the other Goldstone antennas have also been used as sensitive radio telescopes for such scientific investigations as mapping quasars and other celestial radio sources; radar mapping planets, the moon, comets and asteroids; spotting comets and asteroids with the potential to strike earth; and the search for ultra-high energy neutrino interactions in the moon by using large-aperture radio antennas.
Deep Space Station 14 is the centerpiece of the Goldstone Complex. Despite its advanced age of 47 years, the government is committed to keeping it as a viable cosmic listening post. In 2010, while NASA was anticipating a series of energetic unmanned spacecraft launches which are intended to ultimately culminate in a manned flight to Mars, NASA undertook a $1.25 million refurbishing and repair project on the device’s eroding 80-foot circumference  hydrostatic bearing that supports the weight of the antenna. The bearing, a ring of steel and cement, provides a foundation for the dish, allowing it to spin on a horizontal plane, rotating by sliding on a thin coat of oil constantly pumped on the bearing’s surface. In more than four decades of use, NASA has learned extreme desert temperatures and the ubiquitous sand make for  a highly corrosive combination working against the longevity of the load supporting bearing.
The hydrostatic bearing’s runner had grown warped or distended and the bearing itself was unevenly worn down, resulting in leakage of oil from the bearing seeping out and chemically abrading the grout beneath the antenna, although the device remained functional.  Technicians utilized dozens of heavy duty hydraulicjacks to lift the more than 1,500 ton telescope less than a single inch. In that tight clearance, workers completed the repairs, resurfacing the substrate with a grout that is three times as resistant to the destructiveness of the oil than was the original grout and substituting a different blend of surface emollient that is a combination of natural and synthetic petroleum that provides for greater resistance to viscosity breakdown than did the original oil.
As a consequence of its 2010 makeover, Deep Space Station 14 remains the most powerful, accurate and nimble device of its kind in the world, equal in capability to two newer and largely identical antennas at the Madrid Deep Space Communication Complex in Spain and the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex in Australia.
Since it became function in 1966, five years after the United States entered into the so-called Space Race with the Soviet Union in 1961, Deep Space Station 14 played a part in virtually every NASA spacecraft venture between the earth and the moon and all of NASA’s efforts in sending spacecraft beyond the moon. It played a role in relaying communications between the earth and all attempted and actual manned moon landings, including Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s maiden voyage to the moon in July 1969 aboard the lunar module that departed from the orbiting Apollo 11 and vital communications needed to bring astronauts James Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise back to earth after the aborted Apollo 13 moon mission in 1970.

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