ESA’s mission operations infrastructure, funded by all Member States as part of the Agency’s Basic Activities, comprises world-class technology assets that allow ESA to operate its fleet of spacecraft anywhere that European scientists need to go.
Included in the infrastructure is a planet-spanning network of tracking stations, dubbed ESTRACK. The essential task of all our stations is to communicate with spacecraft, transmitting commands and receiving scientific data and spacecraft status information.
This network operates 24 hours per day, year round, and comprises a series of smaller-sized stations to link frequently orbiting Earth missions with ground controllers as well as the ‘big iron’ – three start-of-the-art 35 m-diameter dish antennas that allow ESA to locate and keep in touch with spacecraft that are hundreds of millions of kilometers away from Earth.
These three are located in Australia, Spain and Argentina, providing 360-degree coverage for missions going virtually anywhere.
Our technically advanced stations can track spacecraft circling Earth, watching the Sun, orbiting at the scientifically crucial Sun-Earth Lagrange points or voyaging deep into our Solar System.
All stations are operated centrally from ESA’s ESOC mission control centre in Darmstadt, Germany, using a sophisticated remote control and automation system to reduce personnel costs and boost efficiency.
ESA experts ensure that the stations are operated, maintained and upgraded with the latest technology – and that they comply with international data standards (which ESA helps define). This means our stations can support missions from NASA, JAXA and other agencies, and vice versa, reducing cost and risk for all.
Next part: Europe's best space labs
(Photo: ESA's New Norcia Deep Space Antenna-1 in Australia)
ESA Basic Activities at Space19+
For ESA’s next Ministerial Council, Space19+, set for the end of this year, the Agency is asking Europe’s space ministers for a substantial investment for its core Basic Activities, helping to support a new generation of space missions as efficiently as possible. ESA’s Basic Activities have three main objectives: to enable the future through early stage research and development, commencing the Agency’s seamless grid of innovation; develop and maintain ESA’s common infrastructure and expertise; and, develop, preserve and disseminate knowledge for European capacity building and sustainable growth – inspiring and promoting creativity.