ESA operates some of the world's most sophisticated deep-space tracking stations, enabling spacecraft to maintain contact with Earth while voyaging deep into our Solar System. The essential task of all ESA stations is to communicate with our missions, sending telecommands and receiving vital scientific data and spacecraft status information.
The Agency's three Deep Space Antenna (DSA) stations are located in Australia, Spain and Argentina, and are centrally controlled from the ESOC Operations Centre in Germany. They are equipped with large, 35 m-diameter parabolic dish reflectors, weighing in at 610 tonnes, that can be rotated and pointed with extreme accuracy.
Using signal data from the stations and an advanced navigational technique known as 'delta-DOR', engineers can pinpoint the orbit of a spacecraft exploring Mars or Venus - a distance of over 100 million kilometres from Earth - to an accuracy within 1 kilometre.