Many readers have been asking me personally how the High Desert is so important to our economy or its versatile history over the years. While it’s true that most think of the desert as a dry expanse of sand and nothing lives in it, we can blame that on early Hollywood movies and mid-century TV westerns. We know that contrary to those first impressions, the desert is vibrant with wildlife, fields of flowers, cacti, and the people who see it as their home.
The link between what the High Deserts in particular around the nation — and there are more than one –offer to the economy covers a lot of industries. Without wide open deserts in Oregon, Nevada, New Mexico and California, we wouldn’t have a territory to experiment with deep space satellites, radio astronomy, radio telemetry or space telescopes.
Part One –
Space industry is a general term that can be split into three parts: manned flight, scientific testing, and deep space. The wide open spaces of our Southern California High Desert promotes terrific radio and satellite signals coming and going. The clear air, lack of cities with street lights, and the reduction in noise levels riding on the airwaves, make the desert a perfect place for doing experiments in sending and receiving amplified signals out to Deep Space crafts that have reported their findings automatically since the 1960s.
The Voyager 1 and 2 space crafts, launched the summer of 1977, used as their fact-finding mission intensive cameras to fly by the planets and probe into deep space. They had an approximate life span of six years – they’re now going on 37 years. However, when it comes to battery life, Voyager 1 has a leg up on the iPhone (and just about any other consumer electronic, for that matter). The spacecraft has a plutonium power supply that boasts an 88-year half-life, meaning we’ll stay in touch for years.
The Voyager space crafts will be the third and fourth human spacecraft to fly beyond all the planets in our Solar System. Pioneers 10 and 11 preceded Voyager in outstripping the gravitational attraction of the Sun but on February 17, 1998, Voyager 1 passed Pioneer 10 to become the most distant human-made object in space.
While the exact location of the Heliopause is not known, it has been estimated that Voyager could reach this entry into interstellar space 10 years after crossing the Termination Shock. The heliopause is the demarcation of where the Sun loses influence in space as it touches the outer edges of the Universe. It’s a concept still being studied. (Voyager 1 entered interstellar space on August 25, 2012.) As of September 2013, Voyager 1 was at a distance of 18.7 billion kilometers (125.3 AU) from the Sun. Voyager 2 was at a distance of 15.3 billion kilometers (102.6 AU).
Sharing Data –
So, to keep tracking these spacecraft deep into the unknown, there are only three quiet and remote desert locations in the world where the signals can be captured. All three are desert-like, provide clear skies avoiding traffic, city lights, and noiseless skies. One is here in California’s Mojave Desert at Goldstone (Deep Space Network) near Barstow. The others are near Canberra Australia and Madrid Spain. Although they aren’t true dry deserts like ours, they provide the environments for good signals and transmissions.
The Deep Space Network (DSN) supports NASA and non-NASA missions that explore the furthest points of our solar system. The DSN has these three ground stations located approximately 120 degrees apart on Earth (120 + 120 + 120 = 360). This is to ensure that any satellite in deep space is able to communicate with at least one station at all times. The ground stations also communicate with satellites in order to initiate course corrections, provide software updates, and alter the way scientific observations are made.
In Part 2 I’ll share information about the New Mexico High Desert called St. Augustine Plains and the Very Large Array that moves on short railroad tracks.