$68m deep-space antenna build begins

16/06/2022 - 00:01

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Construction has begun on a $68 million antenna at the European Space Agency’s New Norcia tracking site, a project tipped to strengthen the agency’s relationship with Australia.

$68m deep-space antenna build begins
The New Norcia station, which has been in operation for almost two decades. Image: ESA.

Construction has begun on a $68 million antenna at the European Space Agency’s New Norcia tracking site, a project tipped to strengthen the agency’s relationship with Australia and bolster local capability.

The 35-metre antenna will be the third installed at the site 140 kilometres north of Perth and support the agency’s missions to Jupiter’s moons and the sun, as well as a telescope to investigate dark matter.

The new ultra sensitive, 620-tonne antenna features the latest in deep-space communication technology, increasing data return by up to 40 per cent and capable of detecting signals weaker than those from a mobile phone on Mars.

It is hoped the new antenna will help the agency meet the ever-increasing demand for communication capacity.

More than one-third of the project’s budget will be spent in Australia with local contractors, with the ASA having committed $4.4 million.

The New Norcia station, which has been in operation for almost two decades, works alongside two others in Argentina and Spain to enable global 360-degree coverage.

The site is currently operated and managed by a team at the CSIRO.

On Thursday, newly-appointed federal Science Minister Ed Husic will travel to New Norcia to join representatives from the ESA, the Australian Space Agency, the CSIRO and other dignitaries to mark the beginning of construction with a ceremonial ‘First Stone’ event.

ESA ESTRACK stations and infrastructure lead Yves Doat, who has worked for the agency for more than 36 years, will unveil a plaque to celebrate the milestone.

Australian Space Agency head Enrico Palermo said the body was excited to deepen its relationship with the ESA and continue to grow the local space sector.

He said the project would only extend Australia and Western Australia’s pedigree and heritage in deep space communications and unlock new technical know-how through Australian suppliers helping to design, develop and test the antenna.

ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher said the new antenna would ensure Europe’s continued autonomous capacity to fly pioneering exploratory missions as well as to support upcoming space safety missions including Hera and Vigil.

The construction of the antenna is due to be completed in late 2024 and be operational in 2025.

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