For the past 50 years Australia has been part of every NASA deep space mission.
Space agency bosses have gathered in Canberra to celebrate five decades of the Deep Space Network (DSN) and Australia’s integral role in it.
The DSN is the world’s largest and most powerful communications system for “talking to” spacecraft.
The Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex is one of three stations that keep track of space missions at all times.
“CSIRO and its Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex have been essential to NASA’s historic achievements in space in the past and remains a vital asset for our future,” said NASA administrator Charles Bolden.
He says NASA would like to see young Australians continue to be part of the next generation of astronauts.
“There is no excuse for not having young men and women from Australia who are an active part of that effort.”
In its five decades, the Deep Space Network has brought back to Earth the historic sight of the first Moonwalk, the surface of Mars, and ‘close-ups’ of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
“The Canberra station carried the prime signals confirming the landing of the Curiosity Rover on Mars in August 2012. In 2015 it will have another starring role, receiving the first images of Pluto from the New Horizons spacecraft,” said Dr Charles Elachi, Director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The Tidbinbilla facility has three giant antennas – one 70 metre-wide dish and two that are 32 metres wide – that help to coordinate the dozens of NASA missions running at any one time.
“To bring back those images from Pluto, NASA is investing in this station’s future, building two more antennas at a cost of $110 million,” said CSIRO chief executive Dr Megan Clark.
The three complexes that make up the Deep Space Network are situated at disparate corners of the globe to facilitate contact with craft and satellites anywhere above Earth.
The other two sites are in Madrid, Spain and Goldstone, California.