ESA PR 14-2003. The inauguration ceremony for the European Space Agency's first deep space ground station was held today in New Norcia, 150km north of Perth.
The completion of the New Norcia facility, its first deep space ground station, is an important event for ESA. The station will play a major role in the Agency's deep space missions, including Rosetta and Mars Express, the latter expected to launch in May this year.
The key component of the ground station is its massive antenna which weighs over 600 tonnes and is over 40 metres high. It can move 540 tonnes of ballast, cantilever and 35 metre dish while maintaining precision accuracy of its beam.
New Norcia is the first of a series deep space ground stations that ESA intends to build around the world over the coming years to make up a European deep space network.
Construction of the EUR 28 million project began in April 2000. The last six months of 2002 were devoted to testing the electronic and communication equipment. After an initial manned period, the station will be controlled remotely from ESA's European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt (Germany) and the Perth International Telecommunications Centre at Gnangara.
Professor David Southwood, ESA Director of Science, said New Norcia was chosen over a number of sites in the southern hemisphere.
"This site has excellent weather conditions, sits on the perfect latitude for deep space operations and is sufficiently distant from urban areas so that no other transmission devices disturb the satellite's transmissions," he said.
"Western Australia also has high quality telecommunications infrastructure and we are working closely with Xantic because of its experience in the maintenance and operation of tracking stations.
"Working with Australians on this project has been a very satisfying experience. The local contractors worked with the support of international satellite construction specialists and performed very well. Many of the team currently operating the antenna are also Australian and have returned from overseas positions in the industry."
The Premier of Western Australia, the Hon Dr Geoff Gallop, officially 'switched on' the deep space ground station.
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