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Santa Maria station
Enabling & Support

Santa Maria station

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ESA / Enabling & Support / Operations / ESA Ground Stations

The Santa Maria S-band station, also known as 'Montes das Flores' (Hill of Flowers), is located 5 kms from the town of Vila do Porto on the Portuguese island of Santa Maria, in the Azores some 1500 km from Lisbon. Santa Maria is one of the first Estrack stations with launcher tracking capability and is used to receive real-time telemetry from launches originating from ESA's spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. It is capable of tracking Ariane 5, and was first used to track the launch of ESA's Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) Jules Verne in early 2008.


The coordinates of the 5.5-metre antenna are +36° 59' 50.10", -25° 08' 08.60". The antenna is sited at 276 metres above sea level with respect to the WGS-84 reference ellipsoid, a mathematically-defined reference surface that approximates the Earth's geoid surface.

Facilities & technology

Santa Maria station - site support buildings
Santa Maria station - site support buildings

The station consists of a 5.5-m antenna hard-wired on a stable concrete platform; the station includes telecommunications equipment, a no-break power system, lightning protection and support infrastructure.

For Ariane 5 tracking, the station will receive signals in S-band, at 2200-2300 MHz; X-band capability will be added in the near future to receive scientific data from Earth observation satellites.

The station communicates with the Ariane ground station network, operated by the French space agency CNES from the Guiana Space Centre.

For launches from Kourou, Santa Maria station cooperates with other tracking stations, including the Estrack station in Kourou, the Ariane naval station (SNA - Station Navale Ariane; a station located on a ship in the Atlantic Ocean, between Kourou and the Azores), Australia's Adelaide station (University of South Australia), a mobile station installed at Awarua, New Zealand, and the Dongara station, Australia.


Ariane 5 with ATV-2 launch trajectory
Ariane 5 with ATV-2 launch trajectory

Santa Maria is ideally located to acquire signals from launchers climbing up toward the North-East from Kourou. In a typical Ariane 5 launch, such as the launch carrying ESA's ATV, the flight lasts about 160 minutes and consists of five consecutive phases:

  • First propulsion phase, over the North Atlantic, from Kourou to the Azores
  • First ballistic phase, over Europe, Central and Eastern Asia, and then Indonesia
  • Second propulsion phase, over Australia and New Zealand to achieve a circular orbit before the ATV separates
  • Second ballistic phase, accounting for one complete orbit around the Earth
  • Third propulsion phase, to the North of Australia, for de-orbiting the launch vehicle upper stage

This particular trajectory made it necessary to set up a specific network of ground tracking stations so as to enable the receipt of real-time data during all phases and critical flight events. Santa Maria is one of the first ESA stations that can track a launcher during the propulsion phases, and acquires signals from Ariane during the first propulsion phase.

In the near future, Santa Maria will be upgraded to receive signals in X-band (8025-8400 MHz) as well; this will enable the station to receive data and telemetry from a number of ongoing Earth observation satellites, including Canada's Radarsat, among others.

Santa Maria station - 5.5m antenna
Santa Maria station - 5.5m antenna

SMA's tracking services may also support Project CleanSeaNet, managed by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) and providing satellite detection of oil slicks, and Project MARISS (MARitime Security Service), part of the European Union's Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) programme and supported by ESA.

Access & contact

The ESOC point of contact is:
Head of Ground Facilities Operations Div.
ESOC, Darmstadt
Tel: +49-6151-900

Station address:
ESA Satellite Ground Station
Apartado 49 / Rua Assomada
Vila do Porto
Santa Maria / Açores

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