December 16, 2012
ESA Has a Brand New Tracking Station
ESA is coming up with a brand new tracking station on December 18, 2012, which will be fully serviceable by early 2013 and will be located in Malargue, Argentina, a little under 800 miles (1200 kilometers) to the west of Buenos Aires.
This landscape is also known for the Andes flight disaster that happened in 1972 and was dramatized in a movie that came out in 1993 called “Alive: The Miracle of the Andes”. The site at which the actual crash happened in the mountains still lies around 138.4km away from ESA’s latest tracking station, though.
The antenna will definitely be a huge one – it will have a 35 meter huge diameter! – and will be able to receive important scientific information from current missions and future missions traveling millions of miles into the solar system. It will also be 40 meters tall and will weigh 610 tons. Overall, the station will also sit high in a beautiful 1500-meter-high post on an arid plain where great technology will meet the heights of the Pampas.
Telecommands will be able to be sent through millions of kilometers in space, thanks to a 20kW amplifier, as well; while ultra-weak signals from Jupiter and beyond will be able to be received, thanks to cooled -258C low-noise amplifiers.
Malargue station will be able to receive Ka-band and X-band radio signals, as well, which will significantly improve its ability to get huge amounts of information from farther away. It is a great piece of engineering, and its years of development and design work will finally come to fruition very soon.
The huge radio reflector dish found at ESA’s new station in itself already shows how impressive the new station’s technology will be, though. Therefore, there really is no doubt that it will be able to track missions like never before. Aside from tracking missions at Venus and Mars, though, it will also be able to conduct experiments in radio science and let scientists in Argentina and Europe further study the way in which spacecraft-ground communication signals tend to travel.
It is no secret that deep-space missions could reach millions of kilometers away from the Earth. Well, communicating at distances like that will require very accurate and very precise mechanical calibration and pointing systems. Fortunately, this station will be able to provide better ranges, data rates and radio technology to send commands; get the necessary information; and do the radiometric measurements for current and future missions.
Once this inauguration is complete, the ESA will also have completed three deep-space antenna stations as part of their ESTRACK network, turning ESA into one of the most technologically advanced space organizations in the world, in general.
ESTRACK refers to a global tracking station network, where ground stations provide links between ESA’s Operations Control Center in Germany and the satellites that are currently in orbit. The main ESTRACK network consists of ten stations from different countries, including Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Sweden and Australia.
The main goal of the ESTRACK stations, in general, would be to communicate with missions, down-link scientific information and spacecraft status data, and up-link commands. However, the stations will also be able to collect radiometric information to let mission controllers know the trajectory, velocity and location of their spacecrafts. They will also be able to find and look for newly launched spacecraft. Other things that they can do include frequency control, timing control, auto-tracking, and weather and atmospheric data collection.
DSA 3 Malargue will be the final piece to add to complete ESA’s 360 degree circumferential coverage for deep-space probes. This would include Mars Express, Venus Express, Herschel and Planck, and Rosetta. In the future, this will also include Gaia, ExoMars, BepiColombo, Juice and Solar Orbiter. It will also join with two other deep-space antennas that are each 35 meters deep. The other antennas are DSA 1 in Australia and DSA 2 in Spain. All three of these antennas comprise the European Deep Space Network.
In return for hosting it for the next five decades, the capacity of the station will be shared in conjunction with Argentina, of which the CONAE national space office played an instrumental partner. Besides, Argentina helped a lot in making the station, so it shows that the relationship between CONAE and ESA really is a strong one.