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ESA's tracking station network – Estrack – is a global system of ground stations providing links between satellites in orbit and ESA's ESOC mission control centre in Darmstadt, Germany. 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.
Our 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 1998, ESA decided to establish its own network for tracking deep-space probes to cope with the expected rapid rise in the number of interplanetary missions. The aim was to establish three terrestrial stations about 120° apart in longitude to provide continuous coverage as Earth rotated.
In the 2000s, the first of three 35 m-diameter Deep Space Antennas (DSA) was built in New Norcia (Australia), followed by stations at Cebreros (Spain) and Malargüe (Argentina).
These feature some of the world’s best tracking station technology used for deep space communication and they support spacecraft voyaging hundreds of millions of kilometres away in space. In August 2016, New Norcia station received signals from the international Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn, across more than 1.4 billion km of space.
All stations are operated centrally from a Network Operations Centre located at ESOC using a sophisticated remote control and automation system to reduce personnel costs and boost efficiency. A team of station operators are on shift 365 days per year, ensuring receipt of vital data from spacecraft operated by ESA and numerous partner agencies.
How we make a space mission
ESA is Europe’s space agency, enabling its 22 Member States to achieve results that no individual nation can match. ESA combines space mission development with supporting labs, test and operational facilities plus in-house experts covering every aspect of space, supported through the Agency’s Basic Activities.