A document discusses a technique for enabling the reception of spacecraft commands at received signal levels as much as three orders of magnitude below those of current deep space systems. Tone-based commanding deals with the reception of commands that are sent in the form of precise frequency offsets using an open-loop receiver. The key elements of this technique are an ultrastable oscillator and open-loop receiver onboard the spacecraft, both of which are part of the existing New Horizons (Pluto flyby) communications system design. This enables possible flight experimentation for tone-based commanding during the long cruise of the spacecraft to Pluto.

In this technique, it is also necessary to accurately remove Doppler shift from the uplink signal presented to the spacecraft. A signal processor in the spacecraft performs a discrete Fourier transform on the received signal to determine the frequency of the received signal. Due to the long-term drift in the oscillators and orbit prediction model, the system is likely to be implemented differentially, where changes in the uplink frequency convey the command information.

This work was done by Robert S. Bokulic and J. Robert Jensen of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory for Goddard Space Flight Center.

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NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the August, 2008 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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