Last updated June 5, 2020 at 5:37 pm
Just a couple of hours north of Perth stands one of the ESA’s most important links to spacecraft exploring the solar system.
Why This Matters: Australia already plays a vital role in exploring our solar system.
As you head north along the Great Northern Highway from Perth you pass townships with names such as Bindoon and Wannamal. After a couple of hours New Norcia appears on the horizon, Australia’s only monastic town. Benedictine monks still inhabit the Spanish-style buildings of the monastery.
Just before you reach the town there is an anonymous gate blocking a trail snaking its way across a field. It’s easy to pass unseen, but if you follow the trail you’ll reach one of the most vital links between Earth and a team of spacecraft exploring the solar system. The European Space Agency’s Deep Space Ground Station and its 35m dish peer into the universe, surrounded by scrubland.
The impressive structure is one of three such stations in the Agency’s ESTRACK network, designed for communicating with spacecraft exploring the far reaches of the Solar System.
Deep Space Antenna-1 (DSA-1) routinely provides support to Mars Express and Exomars TGO, currently orbiting the Red Planet; the Gaia space observatory, in the process of making the world’s most precise map of the stars in our Milky Way galaxy; BepiColombo on its way to Mercury; and Cluster II, studying Earth’s magnetic environment.
Deeper: Australia’s future in space
In 2016 the main 35m dish was joined by a smaller 4.5m dish. With the narrow beam of the 35m dish making communications with spacecraft during ascent and at low altitudes difficult, the 4.5m dish has a wider beam width. It can be used to communicate with spacecraft up to 100,000 kilometres in altitude.
The facility also houses a solar farm, which provides over a third of the electricity required to run the antenna and its systems.
Discoveries by these deep space missions and others would not be possible without the ESA ground stations like DSA1.