Part of the show Naked Science Questions and Answers
Christine in Balding asked:
As a radio amateur, I know that trying to get a signal very far away is hard unless the conditions are exactly right. How do NASA manage to get signals all the way into space? Do they have different equipment?
It's actually requires a lot of power. We use huge big radio dishes and they are metres across, if not nearly kilometres. We use a large number of these in order to communicate with spacecraft. There is a large time delay. I was involved with the Huygens mission which was at Saturn and there was a delay of a few hours for the data to get back to us. Because of that we had to use everything on remote and we got the data afterwards. We had no direct control while it was actually happening.