France: The European Space Agency announced of a fully operational NNO-2 satellite tracking antenna in Western Australia on Monday. The news was due since December last year when the dish antenna was declared technically fit for service.
According to the ESA, the new dish will track launches from Kourou spaceport, French Guiana in South America. These include the European Galileo positioning system satellites, the BepiColombo mission to planet Mercury, and ExoMars to Mars.
ESA said the new aerial is just 4.5 metres across, allowing it to quickly and accurately lock onto satellite and rocket launches and track them during the criticial first orbits, up to approximately 100,000 kilometres above Earth.
The new dish can be used with the existing 35 metre diameter DSA 1 deep space tracking antenna also located at New Norcia in WA, which has been in service since 2002. This can follow missions such as Rosetta and Mars Express hundreds of millions of kilometres away, but it is not ideal for signalling to craft near Earth due to its size.
The dish can also pick up telemetry for launch tracking in the 2-4GHz S-band. The space agency said it has spent around A$9.5 million on the design, build and installation of the new antenna. The ESA operates the Estrack tracking and control network with nine stations in seven countries.
Having a tracking station situated in Western Australia is critical for most European launches, but the space agency was forced move from Perth as urban sprawl and radio interference from television broadcast vans made the location untenable.
The station is equipped with delta differential one-way ranging technology for accurate spacecraft location finding and tracking, and a GPS tracking and data analysis facility dual-frequency receiver system with continuous measurements sent to the operations centre.