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Discussion below Will future deep space optical communications "ground stations" actually be in space, or on the ground? has got me wondering about the improbable situation where a giant dish antenna on the ground has communicated with a tiny spacecraft.

Question: Whatg is the closest distance at which cubesat (or comparable smallsat) has communicated with the Deep Space Network *or any large dish (say >10 meters) of any "space network"? Ever in cis-lunar space? Ever in Earth orbit proper?

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Because the other answers seem to be having trouble finding cubesats: the MarCO cubesats apparently downlinked to 70m DSN dishes. MarCO A and B were 6U cubesats that acted as comm relays for the Mars Insight lander during entry, descent, and landing.

The Iris v2 radio, developed by NASA JPL, consists of five stacked modules with external Solid-State Power Amplifier and Low-Noise Amplifier Modules. Iris v2 itself weighs 1.2 Kilograms, takes up 0.5 CubeSat units of volume and requires a peak power of 35 Watts when transponding at a four-watt X-Band RF output. It is fully compatible with the Deep Space Network, operating at a downlink frequency of 8.4 GHz and 7.2 GHz for uplink. It has been designed to be radiation tolerant for deep space missions of several years and includes thermal regulation provisions for tracking/navigation sessions of several hours at a time.

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Based on some research, I could not find a cubesat that has communicated with the Deep Space Network yet.

However, there are two interesting findings:

  1. The Lunar IceCube Cubesat, planned to launch on Artemis-1 on 2021, will validate the use of the Delay Tolerant Network (DTN) for the first time on a cubesat in deep space. For that purpose, the Morehead State University’s DSN Affiliated Station DSS-17 will be used. It is a 21-meter dish. The DTN is a service that is also being used by the Deep Space Network. Some more information about the mission can be found in this presentation by JPL engineer N.Richard, given at the Interplanetary Small Satellite Conference in 2020. Slide 3 of the presentation states the cubesat-first attempt for DTN use. Some information about the DTN can be found here. More information on Lunar IceCube can be found here.

  2. This recent publication seems to provide a trade-off analysis of the various methods with which small satellites could be able to communicate with deep space networks. Some of those solutions include the use of other satellite relay's, or the use of the aforementioned DTN technology. The paper can be found here, titled "Improving Small Satellite Communications and Tracking in Deep Space". I tried to find historical information about cubesat communications in deep space; the satellite relay method used by the MARCO satellites was the only instance I could find, but it is not direct communication with the DSN.

I hope the references may prove useful!

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks! I've adjusted the question to be more accommodating; "...cubesat (or comparable smallsat)..." $\endgroup$ – uhoh Nov 22 '20 at 7:17
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Based on the postulate that a cubesat is a low-power transmitter without a directional antenna, then the most suitable example would be a Soviet balloon in the atmosphere of Venus.

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Its transmitter had a power of 4.5 watts. The signal was received by the American and Soviet Deep Space Network and a number of other radiotelescopes in several radioobservatories. The digital signal transmission rate was 1 and 4 bits/sec.

http://mentallandscape.com/V_Vega.htm

enter image description here

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks! I've adjusted the question to be more accommodating; "...cubesat (or comparable smallsat)..." $\endgroup$ – uhoh Nov 22 '20 at 7:17
  • $\begingroup$ This is a related answer, but I'm not certain how closely; space.stackexchange.com/a/37008/12102 $\endgroup$ – uhoh Nov 22 '20 at 7:30
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh There is an interesting example 4M (Manfred Memorial Moon Mission): The 4M probe was the first private lunar probe to successfully perform a lunar flyby $\endgroup$ – A. Rumlin Nov 22 '20 at 13:58

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