An image of the enigmatic Red Planet acquired by ESA’s Mars Express was received today via ESA’s new tracking station in Malargüe, Argentina, symbolising ‘first data’ and recognising formal inauguration.
The precision tracking of the Mars mission by the station’s 610-tonne, 35 m-diameter dish antenna was commanded ‘on’ by Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, President of the Republic of Argentina, via remote link from her office in the Casa Rosada presidential palace.
The image was acquired by the low-resolution monitoring camera on the Mars orbiter and it travelled 327 million kilometres in just over 18 minutes. The tracking pass began at about 22:11 GMT (23:11 CET). On arrival at the station, the data were transmitted to ESOC, ESA’s European Space Operations Centre, Darmstadt, Germany.
The inauguration ceremony took place at the station, a short drive south of Malargüe, 1200 km west of Buenos Aires, in the presence of Julio de Vido, Argentina’s Minister of Federal Planning, Services and Public Investment, and Thomas Reiter, ESA’s Director of Human Spaceflight and Operations, and Alvaro Giménez Cañete, Director of Science and Robotic Exploration.
The agreement to build and exploit the station was signed with Argentina on 16 November 2009, for a duration of 50 years. The agreement contains benefits, facilities and services to be provided by Argentina. In exchange, ESA will make available to Argentina 10% of the antenna time for their national scientific projects in space. The Comisión Nacional de Actividades Espaciales (CONAE) is responsible for implementing the agreement.
Construction began in January 2010, and the station was substantially complete in spring 2012. It will enter routine service early in 2013.
The inauguration of Malargüe also marks the completion of the Agency’s trio of deep-space antenna – DSA – stations as part of the Estrack network and confirms ESA as one of the world’s most technologically advanced space organisations.
Joining DSA 1 in New Norcia, Australia, and DSA 2 in Cebreros, Spain, DSA 3 Malargüe provides the final leg in ESA’s global coverage for deep-space probes including, today, Mars Express, Venus Express, Rosetta, Herschel and Planck, and, in the future, Gaia, BepiColombo, ExoMars, Solar Orbiter and Juice.