ESA’s new tracking station in Malargüe, Argentina, will be inaugurated later today ready to enter service early next year. The massive antenna will capture precious scientific data from missions voyaging hundreds of millions of kilometres into our Solar System.
Inauguration of the Malargüe satellite ground station marks the completion of ESA’s trio of deep-space antenna – DSA – stations and confirms ESA as one of the world’s most 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, which typically operate well beyond two million km from Earth and where communications require highly accurate pointing.
“With the Malargüe station, ESA becomes only the second space agency in the world to provide all-sky coverage for deep-space missions,” said Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA’s Director General.
“This is a tremendous asset not only for Europe but also for all our international partners in the exploration of the Solar System.”
The three antennas are equipped with 35 m-diameter parabolic dishes that provide the increased range and data transmission speed required for present and future exploration missions, ranging from planetary missions like Mars Express and BepiColombo to observatories like Solar Orbiter.
These missions require ESA’s Estrack tracking network to expand capacity, develop new station technology, shift to higher data rates and frequencies and invest in infrastructure, all the while cooperating with other agencies, boosting efficiency and reducing costs.
The inauguration ceremony is taking place at the station in the presence of Julio de Vido, Argentina’s Minister of Federal Planning, Services and Public Investment, as well as ESA’s Thomas Reiter, Director of Human Spaceflight and Operations, and Alvaro Giménez Cañete, Director of Science and Robotic Exploration.
Ground station technology sets global standards
Like the other two DSA stations, the 600-tonne dish at Malargüe has sophisticated cryogenically cooled low-noise amplifiers to detect the faint signals and perform measurements with missions orbiting planets or voyaging through our Solar System.
It will ensure uninterrupted telecommunications during mission-critical events, sending commands and receiving data at any moment, in any direction.
The new station is 30 km south of Malargüe city, Mendoza Province, Argentina, some 1200 km west of Buenos Aires. The site was selected in 2009 after a round of site assessments in a number of South American countries.
Construction began in January 2010, and the station was substantially complete by spring 2012. The first test signals from Mars Express, orbiting the Red Planet 193 million km from Earth, were received on 14 June 2012.
Like all stations in the Estrack network, Malargüe will be remotely controlled from ESOC, ESA’s European Space Operations Centre, Darmstadt, Germany, for daily tracking assignments and downloading science data.
Telespazio Argentina, a subsidiary of Telespazio (Finmeccanica/Thales), will manage local operations and maintenance, including site infrastructure and services.
Note for Editors
On 22 June 2009, ESA informed Argentine authorities that an area 30 km south of the town of Malargüe in Mendoza province, about 1200 km west of Buenos Aires, had been chosen as the best option to build a new 35 m-diameter antenna in support of its programmes.
The agreement to build and exploit the station was signed with Argentina on 16 November 2009, for a planned duration of 50 years.
The agreement contains a list of 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, on the Argentinian side, for the implementation of the agreement. CONAE is also responsible for coordinating at national level the use of the 10% of antenna time as provided in the agreement.
Construction of the antenna and integration was contracted to SED Systems (CA) and Vertex Antennentechnik (DE). European industry involved in the project included Actia Sodielec (FR), Callisto (FR), Esteyco (ES), Femto (FR), Mirad (CH), NDSatcom (DE), Timetech (DE), T4Science (CH) and Weiss Klimatechnik (DE). A local industrial consortium constructed the buildings, infrastructure and ancillary equipment, comprising Carlucci, Pascual Casetta, Alcatraz, Desarrolladora Monteverdi (all AR) and others. The station’s power plant was built by Distrocuyo (AR). Telespazio Argentina contributed to the site’s location selection, provided early services and local support.
ESA’s three DSA stations enable the Agency to operate independently of NASA’s Deep Space Network for controlling its deep-space missions. However, both agencies recognise the value of sharing tracking resources, which improves redundancy and back up, especially in case of spacecraft emergency or station malfunction.
Malargüe and Estrack are set to support numerous new missions. In 2013, Gaia will be launched to map the Galaxy and pinpoint a billion stars. In 2014, LISA Pathfinder will qualify the technologies to hunt gravititational waves that bend space-time. In 2015, BepiColombo will be launched to Mercury, while in 2016 and 2018, the ExoMars missions will reach Mars orbit and land on its surface. In between, in 2017, Solar Orbiter will be launched. Euclid will follow in 2020 to track the elusive dark matter and dark energy that account for most of the Universe. And in 2022, Juice will set sail to Jupiter to visit its icy moons.
Each of these missions will generate an important flow of data and will often have to be followed simultaneously. This will be the role of the three large dishes of ESA’s expanded deep-space network.
Malargüe station facts & figures
- Dish antenna diameter: 35 metres
- Station structure height: 40 metres
- Moving antenna parts: 610 tonnes
- Station location: 35° 46' 33.63" S, 69° 23' 53.51" W
- Site altitude: 1550 m
- Pointing accuracy: better than 0.006°
About the European Space Agency
The European Space Agency (ESA) is Europe’s gateway to space.
ESA is an intergovernmental organisation, created in 1975, with the mission to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space delivers benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world.
ESA has 20 Member States: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, of whom 18 are Member States of the EU.
ESA has Cooperation Agreements with eight other Member States of the EU and is discussing an Agreement with the one remaining (Bulgaria). Canada takes part in some ESA programmes under a Cooperation Agreement.
By coordinating the financial and intellectual resources of its members, ESA can undertake programmes and activities far beyond the scope of any single European country.
ESA develops the launchers, spacecraft and ground facilities needed to keep Europe at the forefront of global space activities.
Today, it launches satellites for Earth observation, navigation, telecommunications and astronomy, sends probes to the far reaches of the Solar System and cooperates in the human exploration of space.
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