ESA to build second deep space dish in WA

Thursday, 06 May, 2021

ESA to build second deep space dish in WA

The European Space Agency (ESA) has announced that it will collaborate with the Australian Space Agency on the construction of a deep space antenna at New Norcia, 140 km north of Perth — ESA’s second such antenna to be based at this site and its fourth overall.

Deep space antennas are used to communicate with spacecraft on missions that take them far from Earth. ESA’s large antennas communicate with spacecraft so far out in space — as far as 1.44 billion kilometres from Earth and even further in future — that they can only ‘listen’ to spacecraft in a relatively small area of the sky at any one time, and so, as space exploration continues to take us in new directions, ESA needs more antennas.

New Norcia provides a strategic geographical position allowing around-the-clock coverage of deep space missions, complementing ESA’s sites in Malargüe (Argentina) and Cebreros (Spain) to provide uninterrupted communications with spacecraft exploring the galaxy. The current ground station and antenna at New Norcia are locally operated by CSIRO; building a second antenna on the site will allow for cost-effective construction, maintenance and operation.

The 35-metre, 620-tonne antenna will be a new model with novel functionality and support for additional communication frequencies. It will feature the latest in deep space communication technology, including a super-cool ‘antenna feed’ that will be cryogenically cooled to around -263°C and increase data return by up to 40%, and will be so sensitive it could detect signals far weaker than the signal from a mobile phone on the surface of Mars.

The new deep space antenna is a joint undertaking contributing to the long-term cooperation between ESA and Australia in the space domain. It enables significant economic, technology and scientific benefits for both partners, and will pave the way for further collaboration in areas such as space communication, space situational awareness and mission operations.

“We are happy to announce the latest addition to ESA’s state-of-the-art deep space communication network and this important next step in our relationship with the Australian Space Agency,” said ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher.

ESA has budgeted €45 million ($70 million) for the new antenna, covering antenna procurement and construction as well as upgrades to station buildings and services. While the prime contractor will come from an ESA Member State, a significant portion of the budget will be spent in Australia with the involvement of a number of Australian companies.

“The new antenna is not only positive progress in the [Australian Space] Agency and ESA’s cooperative relationship, but also an important contributor to the local economy which will help grow Australia’s civil space industry,” said the Head of the Australian Space Agency, Enrico Palermo.

Construction is due to be completed in 2024, with the antenna entering operation in the second half of that year.

Image shows the 35 m-diameter dish antenna of ESA’s deep space tracking station at New Norcia, illuminated by ground lights against the night sky on 3 August 2015. Image credit: D O’Donnell/ESA under CC BY-SA 3.0

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