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The Ultimate DX Experience: Mars By Marc. C. Tarplee, Ph.D. N4UFP


In 2001, NASA launched the Mars Odyssey orbital probe. ... on Mars, there will probably be new propagation modes discovered that are unknown here on Earth. ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: The Ultimate DX Experience: Mars By Marc. C. Tarplee, Ph.D. N4UFP

The Ultimate DX Experience Mars!By Marc. C.
Tarplee, Ph.D.N4UFP
  • In 2001, NASA launched the Mars Odyssey orbital
    probe. This orbiter has a space-to-ground link
    operates at 437.1 MHz.
  • NASA is able to use this frequency, because the
    70 cm band is not an amateur allocation on Mars
    (the FCC has no jurisdiction on Mars ).
  • The use of terrestrial amateur frequencies of
    Mars raises two interesting questions
  • would be possible to hear the Mars Odyssey
    orbiter on Earth, as it communicated with probes
    on the surface of Mars? (DX from Mars)
  • What types of surface-to-surface communications
    are possible on Mars? (DX on Mars)

Part I
  • DX from Mars

Hearing the Mars Odyssey Relay from Earth
  • Communications from Mars to Earth are line of
    sight, through 38 million to 250 million miles of
    interplanetary space.
  • Earth and Mars rotate around the Sun, the Earth
    in 365 days, and Mars in 687 days.
  • Earth revolves in 24 hours, and Mars in 24 hrs 38
  • For at least part of each day, it is possible to
    have a line of sight between the relay and Earth.

Hearing the Mars Odyssey UHF downlink from Earth
  • It will be assumed that reception will be
    attempted only after dark, so that question of
    solar noise does not have to be considered. Mars
    appears in the evening sky for weeks at a time,
    so there would certainly be many opportunities to
    listen for the probe
  • Although there is a line of sight between Earth
    and Mars, that does not guarantee reception of
    the relays signal. The path loss and antenna
    gains must be computed to see if the signal
    reaching Earth is above the background noise.

The Inner Solar System
Received Signal Strength
  • The received signal strength (in dBm) can be
    computed from the following equation
  • Precv if the received power
  • Pxmit is the transmitted power
  • Gxmitant is the transmitting antenna gain
  • apath is the path loss
  • Grecvant is the receiving antenna gain
  • afeedline is the feed line loss.
  • All powers, gains and losses must be expressed in

Transmitter Specifications
  • The transmitted power will be low, since the
    probes depend on solar cells for electric power.
  • Typical output powers are approx. 20 watts (43
  • To save weight, lander antennas tend to be very
    simple. The estimated transmit antenna gain is 5

Path Losses
  • Next it is necessary to compute the path loss
  • where a the path loss in dB
  • D the distance traveled by the RF
  • D varies from 38 to 250 million miles (61 billion
    to 402 billion meters)
  • ? the wavelength of the RF (0.69 meters)
  • The corresponding path loss ranges from 251 to
    267 dB. An average path loss of 259 dB will be

UHF Receiving Antenna Specifications
  • The gain of the receiving antenna should be a
    large as possible. It will be assumed that the
    receiving antenna is a commercially available 70
    cm yagi with approximately 25 elements. The gain
    will be approximately 18 dBi.
  • Feed line losses can be a problem at 437 MHz.
    Good coax, such as Belden 9913 will have a loss
    of about 2.7 dB per 100 ft. A 3 dB feed line loss
    will be assumed.

Expected Received Signal Strength for the UHF
uplink signal
  • Now the received power can be calculated
  • This is extremely weak!
  • The thermal noise floor of a receiver with a 100
    Hz BW is -154 dB thus the signal would be lost
    in the noise.
  • The Mars Odyssey signal could be received if
  • The receive antenna were made larger (300 ft dia
  • More power were used at the transmitter end (
    100 W (50 dBm))
  • Cool the receiver front end to reduce thermal

Hearing the Mars Odyssey X-band link
  • Mars Odyssey transmits data and telemetry back to
    Earth on the X-band. (10GHz)
  • Based on data from the JPL website
  • output power 25W 44 dBm
  • antenna gain 40 dB
  • bandwidth 10 kHz (based on a data rate of
    21.3 kb/s and a coding efficiency of 2 bit/Hz

X-band Receiving Antenna Specifications
  • Yagis are not practical at 10 GHz. The best
    approach is a paraboloidal reflector antenna
  • It will be assumed that the receiving dish has a
    diameter of 8 feet and an illumination efficiency
    of 50 at 10 GHz.
  • The estimated gain of the dish is 43 dBd
  • Feedline losses will be assumed to be 6 dB

Expected Received Signal Strength for the X-band
downlink signal
  • Received Power
  • The thermal noise floor of a receiver with a 10
    kHz BW is -134 dB
  • The signal is still below the noise floor. If the
    receive antenna were made much larger ( 400 ft
    dia dish) the RSL would now be -130 dBm.
  • Receive dishes used by NASA are considerably
    smaller, on the order of 100 ft in diameter.
  • Smaller dishes are probably made possible by a
    narrower bandwidth than was estimated and
    cryogenically cooled receiver front ends that
    have low noise floors

ME (Mars-Earth) Operation
  • Path losses on the Mars-Earth link are similar to
    those encountered in EME (moonbounce) operation.
  • When amateur operation does commence on Mars, ME
    operation should be possible. Station
    requirements resemble those for EME
  • High gain antennas at both ends of link ( 25 dBi
    16x14 el Yagis or a dish)
  • Ability to rotate the antenna in azimuth and
  • High transmitter power ( 25 W 44 dBm)
  • Received signal levels would be in the 140 dBm
    range, at least 10 dB above the noise floor.
  • Antenna arrays of this type are already in use
    for EME

1296 MHz ME Link Analysis
  • Path losses at 1296 MHz 268 dB.
  • Antennas at both ends are 10 ft (3.3m) diameter
    dishes with 50 illumination efficiency (G 46
  • Feedline losses at each end are 6 dB
  • Output Power of the transmitter is 44 dBm (25W)
  • Bandwidth is 100 Hz ( suitable for PSK-31 )
  • Noise floor -154 dBm
  • RSL 2546-6-26846-6-144 dBm
  • SNR 10 dB which is sufficient for good copy on

Part II
  • DX on Mars

Possible Propagation Modes
  • Line of sight communications are possible on
    Mars. However, for a given height, Mars smaller
    diameter gives a shorter range.
  • Over-the-horizon VHF/UHF modes such as
    tropospheric scatter are dependent on the
    presence of water vapor, which is not part of the
    Martian atmosphere.
  • Propagation modes such as Trans-Equatorial F and
    Field-Aligned Irregularities are dependent on a
    planetary magnetic field, which Mars does not
  • Initially, the dominant mode of RF propagation
    may be HF sky wave.

The Martian Ionosphere
  • The upper atmosphere of Mars, like Earth is
    bombarded by high energy radiation from the sun.
    Although the average intensity of this radiation
    is about 44 of what Earth receives, there still
    should be enough energy to create an ionosphere
    on Mars.

Martian Ionospheric Electron Density vs Altitude
Critical Frequency
  • Because Mars atmosphere is composed almost
    entirely of carbon dioxide, there is only one
    layer in its ionosphere
  • The peak electron density, 1.210 5 cm 3 , is
    only 5 of the peak electron density or Earths
  • The critical frequency of the ionosphere and the
    electron density are related as follows
  • where Ne is the electron density
  • fcr is the critical frequency.
  • On Earth, the critical frequency of the F2 layer
    varies from 5 MHz (night) to 14 MHz (day). On
    Mars, it is varies from 0.6 (night) to 3 MHz

Maximum Usable Frequency
  • For DX paths, in which the radiation angle is
    near zero, the maximum frequency for sky wave
    propagation (MUF) is given by
  • R is the radius of the planet
  • h is the effective height of the ionosphere.
  • During daytime, Martian MUFs reach 10 MHz.
    Daytime terrestrial MUFs can reach 40 MHz.
  • At night, Martian MUFs drop to 2 MHz, compared
    to 5 to 10 MHz on Earth.

Sky Wave Path Comparison
  • To cover a given distance, more hops are needed
    on Mars
  • Minimum number of hops needed to reach all points
    on the surface
  • -5 on Earth
  • -6 on Mars

HF Communications on Mars
  • If amateur frequencies were allocated on Mars as
    they are on Earth, only the 160, 80, 40 and 30
    meter bands could be used for long-haul
  • Since there is no D-layer on Mars that absorbs
    lower frequencies, all bands could be used during
    daylight hours.
  • After dark 160m would be the only possible band
    for DX.
  • The 20m band on Mars would act much like 6m on
    Earth during periods of intense solar activity
    there could be DX openings on 20 during the day.

Cyclical Propagation Variations
  • In addition to diurnal variations, propagation on
    Mars also has a seasonal variation.
  • Mars orbit is more elliptical than Earths and
    during the northern hemisphere winter, solar
    irradiation is 40 higher than it is during the
    northern hemisphere summer.
  • In the northern hemisphere, there would be
    tremendous seasonal change in MUF.
  • However, in the southern hemisphere, MUFs would
    be relatively constant throughout the year.
  • Mars ionosphere, like Earths, is also affected
    by the solar cycle, but because Mars has no
    magnetic field, the solar wind could wreak havoc
    with HF communications there.

Closing Comments
  • It is unknown whether sporadic phenomena similar
    to sporadic-E occur in the Martian atmosphere
  • The effects of global sandstorms that sometimes
    engulf the planet on propagation are not known.
  • When amateurs finally get the chance to operate
    on Mars, there will probably be new propagation
    modes discovered that are unknown here on Earth.
  • Operating on Mars could be the most exciting
    amateur activity of the 21st century, should we
    decide to go.