A new ESA giant in Australia

A new ESA giant in Australia

Activation and support

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Construction of ESA’s fourth space antenna has begun in Australia, which will help fill a gap in supporting communications and data downloads for future missions that explore our solar system, study our universe and protect the Earth from solar and hazardous asteroids.

In depth

ESA representatives met with representatives from Australia’s national and regional governments and from Australian Space Agency today, 16 June, to start active construction of the new antenna located at ESA’s existing New Norcia ground station, 140 kilometers north of Perth, Western Australia. The Australian Space Agency provides local and financial support for the project.

ESA’s deep space antennas are used to send commands and receive information and scientific data from missions that travel far from Earth – to the moon, the sun, distant planets or even asteroids.

The three existing deep space antennas in ESA’s global tracking station network – Etrack – located approximately 120 degrees apart in longitude in places in Australia, Spain and Argentina. Together, they provide continuous coverage for spacecraft almost anywhere in the solar system.

ESA is now building a fourth 35 m diameter antenna to meet the growing demand for communications bandwidth as the agency prepares and launches a new generation of space and space security mission. With global coverage already achieved, the decision was made to build a second deep space antenna on the existing Australian site.

“The new antenna will ensure Europe’s continued autonomous capacity to fly groundbreaking reconnaissance missions and to support future space missions including Hera and Vigil,” said ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher. “It will also strengthen ESA’s important relationship with Australia while helping to ensure that we always get the most out of each mission.”

“The Australian Space Agency is delighted to deepen our relationship with ESA as we look to continue to grow the local space sector,” said Enrico Palermo, Head of the Australian Space Agency. “This project will expand the origins and heritage of Australian and Western Australia in space communications, which can be traced back to the 1950s. It will also unlock the exchange of new technical know-how, as Australian suppliers help design, develop and test the antenna. . ”

The plate unveiled at ESA’s ground station in New Norcia, Western Australia, officially began construction of the new deep space antenna

From down below to new frontiers

Jupiter’s largest moons

From the new antenna in Australia, signals will be sent across interplanetary space, past Mars’ orbit, to the Jupiter system which ESA’s forthcoming Juice spacecraft navigate their complex journey to Jupiter’s icy moons – Ganymede, Europe and Calisto. Juice will be launched in 2023 and will embark on a mission to help researchers answer important questions, such as whether life could have – or has – appeared elsewhere in the solar system.

It will also support the Agency Euclid’s space telescopewhich will also be launched next year, on its mission to illuminate the true nature of dark matter and dark energy by observing billions of galaxies as far as 10 billion light-years from Earth.

Facing the sun, the antenna will support ESA’s Vigilant space weather mission. Due to the launch at the end of the decade, Vigil will monitor our active and unpredictable star from a special vantage point that will enable it to provide spacecraft and vulnerable infrastructure operators on Earth – such as power grids – with warnings of potentially dangerous solar flames.

A lift for Europe, Australia and the world

The Agency’s network of ground stations Etrack is a cornerstone of ESA’s international cooperation. The Agency has promoted and adopted internationally recognized technical standards that enable it to provide cross-service coverage to spacecraft from partner space organizations such as NASA and JAXA. In return, these partners provide corresponding support for ESA’s missions and activities.

The antennas in the network are operated around the clock from ESA’s ESOC Assignment Control Center in Darmstadt, Germany.

ESA’s NNO1 and NNO2 antennas in New Norcia

The decision to build the antenna at ESA’s existing New Norcia station was announced in April 2021. Since then, work has been going on to define the exact location of the new antenna and to upgrade the necessary infrastructure such as roads, electricity and data. Construction is now underway, led by main contractors Thales Alenia Space from France and Schwartz Hautmont Metallic Construction from Spain and is expected to be completed by the end of 2024. The antenna will be commissioned in early 2025.

Australian National Science Bureau, CSIROhas been ESA’s local partner for operation and maintenance since 2019 and will also be responsible for the additional new antenna.

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