Exploring the deep, dark outskirts of the universe would be impossible without the use of antennas.
From the introduction of commercial radio to the invention of smart antennas, the importance of antennas has only grown. While functionality has increased, it could be argued it’s actually the profound impact antennas have had in space exploration which has allowed the technology to continue to advance.
While the 1957 launch of Sputnik 1, humanity’s first satellite, was the first instance of antennas actually entering space, it wasn’t their first jolt in the arena. The history of antennas in the field of space exploration goes as far back as 1932 and the accidental invention of radio telescopes.
By the end of World War II, astronomers were using antennas to survey the galaxy. In many ways, this is what began our step into the abyss of the cosmos.
Sputnik 1 may have been the first occurrence of antennas in the void, but it certainly isn’t the most impressive.
NASA’s Voyager spacecrafts are the only objects humanity has in interstellar space, the area between stars. At over 10 billion miles from Earth, without the use of their antennas, transmissions of Voyager data would never reach Earth, and instructions for the systems’ thrusters would, in turn, never reach the spacecrafts.
The Voyager mission was instrumental in helping to define what the NASA Deep Space Network (DSN) has become. As the spacecrafts continued to move further away from Earth, larger and more advanced antennas were essential to the DSN’s success. Without the antennas that make up the DSN, humanity’s exploration into the space beyond our solar system wouldn’t be possible.
Antennas are essential to communication and, thus, continue to be prevalent in future space exploration. For example, TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) will utilize its unique antenna to transmit data from its search in the nearby galaxy for Earth-like and Super Earth-like planets. The Mars 2020 rover is going to be equipped with several small, omni-directional antennas, allowing for communication with Earth and the other Mars rovers. With the continuing development of commercial space exploration, companies are testing new satellite antenna setups all the time. It seems the bond between antennas and space exploration will continue to be tight.
Whether it’s communication from personnel to personnel or between a computer and an unmanned spacecraft in interstellar space, space exploration is something which requires the ability to communicate efficiently. Through this necessity, antennas will continue to grow smaller, more powerful, and more precise.
Exploring the deepest recesses of space is a job that antennas will continue to have a lasting impact on.