The European Space Agency (ESA) and the Australian Space Agency have announced the construction of a second 35 m deep space antenna at New Norcia Station, 140 km north of Perth in Western Australia.
The construction of the 620-tonne Deep Space Antenna 2 (DSA 2) costs 45 million euros and, once completed, will be sensitive enough to detect signals that are “far weaker than a mobile phone on the surface of Mars”.
In fact, the courts can communicate with spacecraft up to a distance of 1.5 billion kilometers – say, the distance from Earth to Saturn – by aiming at the area of the sky where the spacecraft is located.
The first DSA was completed in 2002 and was intended to communicate with ESA’s Mars missions, among other things. DSA-1 also provides support for missions carried out by other agencies under resource-sharing agreements. ESA has two other facilities, one in Malargüe, Argentina, and one in Cebreros, Spain.
These will be used to control the growing number of space missions in progress, such as ESA’s ExoMars rover due to roll over the surface of the red planet next year.
The sensitivity of DSA 2 is enhanced by a new technique in space communications technology: an “antenna feed” that is cooled to –263 ° C, increasing data yield by up to 40%. The ESA describes antenna feed as “a gizmo that is used to send and receive space signals”.
Josef Aschbacher, Director General of ESA, commented: “We are pleased to announce the latest addition to ESA’s state-of-the-art deep space communications network and this important next step in our relationship with the Australian space agency.
“The ESA network is an important infrastructure that enables collaboration and mutual support in missions carried out by partners such as NASA, Japa in Japan and other agencies. This increases the scientific return on investment and increases efficiency for all parties involved.”
The shell is being built by a contractor from an ESA member state. Construction should be completed in 2024.
Image: The DSA 1 in Western Australia (ESA)