Construction has begun in Australia on ESA’s fourth deep-space antenna, which will help fill a gap in supporting communications and data download for upcoming missions exploring our solar system, studying our universe and protecting Earth from solar hazards and risky asteroids.
ESA representatives met with representatives from Australia’s national and regional governments and from the Australian Space Agency on 16 June to kick off active construction of the new antenna located at ESA’s existing New Norcia ground station, 140 kilometres north of Perth, Western Australia.
The Australian Space Agency is providing local and financial support to the project.
“The new antenna will ensure Europe’s continued autonomous capacity to fly pioneering exploratory missions as well as to support upcoming space safety missions including Hera and Vigil,” ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher, said. “It will also strengthen ESA’s important relationship with Australia while helping ensure we always get the most science out of every mission.”
“The Australian Space Agency is excited to deepen our relationship with ESA, as we look to continue to grow the local space sector,” Enrico Palermo, Head of the Australian Space Agency, said. “This project will extend Australia and Western Australia’s pedigree and heritage in deep space communications, which can be traced right 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.”
From the new antenna, signals will be sent across interplanetary space, past the orbit of Mars, to the Jupiter system as ESA’s upcoming Juice spacecraft navigates its journey to Jupiter’s icy moons – Ganymede, Europa and Calisto. Set to launch in 2023, Juice will embark on a mission 'to help scientists answer important questions, such as whether life could have – or has – emerged elsewhere in the Solar System'.
It will also support ESA's Euclid space telescope, also due to launch 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.
Turning towards the Sun, the antenna will also support ESA’s Vigil space weather mission. Due to launch at the end of the decade, Vigil will monitor our active and unpredictable star from a special vantage point that enables it to provide operators of spacecraft and vulnerable infrastructure on Earth – such as power grids – with advance warning on potentially dangerous solar flares.