Construction has begun on a new deep space antenna in regional Western Australia, with the new Labor government chipping in $4 million to the project which will see $29 million going towards Australian companies.
The first stone has been turned on construction on the antenna at the New Norcia deep space tracking station, located 130km north-east of Perth.
The construction of the 35m, 620 tonne antenna was announced in April last year, a collaboration between the Australian Space Agency and the European Space Agency (ESA).
The project is worth a total of $70 million, with the Australian government to contribute $4 million. While the prime contractor comes from an ESA member state, about $29 million in contracts have gone to Australian suppliers.
New Industry minister Ed Husic announced the beginning of construction on Thursday morning.
“This project will further strengthen the long and prosperous relationships between Europe and Australia, particularly in scientific endeavours relating to space,” Mr Husic said.
“Through this investment we are creating economic and job opportunities for local contractors, as well as a lure to reverse the brain drain and bring home our best and brightest.”
The deep space antenna, expected to be operational in early 2025, will support the ESA’s deep space missions, teaming up with antennas in Argentina and Spain to provide uninterrupted communications with spacecraft exploring the Solar System, visiting asteroids or keeping close watch on our active sun.
It will be able to increase data return by up to 40 per cent thanks to a cryogenically cooled “antenna feed”.
Australia will be playing an active role in the development of the antenna, Australian Space Agency head Enrico Palermo said.
“The Australian Space Agency is excited to deepen our relationship with ESA, as we look to continue to grow the local space sector,” Mr Palermo said.
“It will also unlock the exchange of new technical know-how, as Australian suppliers help design, develop and test the antenna.”
The deep space antenna will play an important role in upcoming missions, ESA director general Josef Ashbacher said.
“The new antenna will ensure Europe’s continued autonomous capacity to fly pioneering exploratory missions as well as to support upcoming space safety missions including Hera and Vigil,” Mr Aschbacher said.
“It will also strengthen ESA’s important relationship with Australia while helping ensure we always get the most science out of every mission.”
CSIRO is the local operator of the New Norcia deep space tracking station, part of the ESA’s tracking station network.
Studies to confirm the exact location of the new antenna were conducted at the end of 2019.
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