Azores joins ESA's tracking network in readiness for ATV launch

Santa Maria Island
Site of ESA's Azores tracking station
31 October 2005

The Members of the Regional Government of the Azores have formally inaugurated the site of a new ESA tracking station on Santa Maria Island which will support the flight of Europe's first Automated Transfer Vehicle to the International Space Station.

Each year the Regional Government visits each island of Portugal's far-flung Atlantic archipelago. These annual visits are part of the Statute of this Autonomous Region. This year's visit to Santa Maria Island, the southernmost part of the Azores, coincided with the inauguration of the infrastructure set up to host an ESA mobile tracking station on the Island's Monte das Flores (Hill of Flowers).

The facility comprises a platform to host the mobile tracking station, along with an electricity supply, lightning protection and support infrastructure. Monte das Flores will be part of the network of stations used to track launches from Europe's Guiana Space Centre (Centre Spatial Guyanais or CSG) to the International Space Station (ISS), starting with Jules Verne, the first launch of ESA's Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) re-supply vehicle.

Artist's impression of ESA's ATV

The 24 October inauguration of the facility began with a visit to the site, where the platform has already been built, then was followed by an official ceremony at an island hotel in the presence of all Members of the Regional Government as well as high-level representatives of the Government of Portugal. The event was chaired by Carlos César, the President of the Regional Government of the Azores, Antonio Fabrizi, ESA Director of Launchers, José Contente, Regional Secretary for Housing and Equipments, Alberto Costa, Mayor of Vila do Porto and Roberto de Sousa Rocha Amaral, CEO of Electricidade dos Açores (EDA).

The ceremony stressed the importance of the placement of the station in Santa Maria as representative of the strong relations between ESA and Portugal. Since Portugal joined the Agency in December 1999 there has been good cooperation between ESA and Portuguese authorities and a significant growth in the number of contracts with Portuguese companies.

Inauguration ceremony

The Monte das Flores facility has been implemented by the Regional Government, the Town Hall of Vila do Porto, GlobalEDA (part of the EDA Group) and the ESA-Portugal Task Force.

"The station will be placed in Santa Maria by ESA a few months before the first ATV launch," stated Director Fabrizi.

Santa Maria's rural environment and small – around 5000 – population ensures minimal radio interference and makes it an appropriate location for a portable tracking station. As well as supporting ATV flights to the ISS, the station may also be used for Ariane 5 launches of the Galileo satellites as well as Soyuz launches to the ISS and flights of ESA's new Vega launcher.

Santa Maria
Santa Maria Island

The mobile tracking station comprises S-band equipment with auto-tracking capability and an INMARSAT communications system. An uninterruptible power supply is also planned for installation.

Planned to help with the re-supply of astronauts in orbit, the new station is located on an island originally chanced upon by Portuguese sailors in 1427, during the initial age of European discovery. It was the first of the nine islands that make up the archipelago to be settled. The Azores as a whole became an important waypoint on the main routes between Europe, the Orient and America during the 16th and 17th centuries.

The 1944 construction of an airport in Santa Maria made it of great strategic value during World War Two and a compulsory stop in Atlantic crossings until the end of the 1960s. The introduction of new types of aircraft with greater range gradually reduced traffic at Santa Maria Airport, however it remains one of two fully equipped airports in the Azores. The air traffic control of the Santa Maria Oceanic Flight Information Region (FIR) is also based on the island.

The Portuguese Ministry of Science, Technology and Universities has announced that the agreement to host the mobile station will be formally signed in Lisbon at the end of November by Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA Director General, and José Mariano Gago, the Portuguese Minister of Science, Technology and Universities.

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