The European Space Agency (ESA) and the Australian Space Agency have announced the construction of a 35-metre, deep space antenna at ESA’s New Norcia station, located 140 kilometres north of Perth in Western Australia.
The 620-tonne antenna will be a new model complementing the existing deep space antenna on the site, with new functionality and support for additional communication frequencies.
It will feature the latest in deep space communication technology, including a super-cooled ‘antenna feed’ that will be cryogenically cooled to around -263 Celsius and increase data return by up to 40 per cent.
The antenna will be so sensitive it can detect signals far weaker than the signal from a mobile phone - if there were one - on the surface of Mars.
“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’s network is crucial infrastructure that helps enable cooperation and cross-support with missions flown by partners like NASA, JAXA and other agencies, and this boosts science return and efficiency for all involved.”
ESA has budgeted €45 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.
ESA’s ground station and antennas at New Norcia, Western Australia, are locally operated by CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency.
“The new antenna is not only positive progress in the 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 Head of the Australian Space Agency Enrico Palermo.
The new deep space antenna in New Norcia 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.
Studies to determine the exact location of the new antenna on the New Norcia site began at the end of 2019. Construction is due to be completed in 2024 with the antenna entering operation in the second half of that year.