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It isn’t only software that gets ‘stretched on the rack’: the GSRF also tests a wide variety of hardware – modulators, demodulators, front-end processors, radio-frequency amplifiers, gigahertz cyclotrons, hydrogen masers and much, much more.
This technology is used in ESA’s tracking station network – Estrack – a global system of ground stations providing links between satellites in orbit and ESOC. The core Estrack network comprises seven stations in seven countries.
The essential task of all ESA ground tracking stations is to communicate with spacecraft, transmitting commands and receiving scientific data and spacecraft status information.
The technically advanced stations can track spacecraft almost anywhere – circling Earth, watching the Sun, orbiting at the scientifically crucial Sun–Earth Lagrange points or voyaging deep into our Solar System.
In a typical year, Estrack provides over 45 000 hours of tracking support to 20 or more missions, with an enviable service availability rate above 99%.