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A giant satellite antenna which could be used to track and communicate with manned space flights to Mars was launched Thursday near the Australian capital of Canberra. The DSS36 antenna was unveiled at the Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex at the Tidbinbilla tracking station. Built by NASA at a cost of $92 million, the device is the second of its kind at the complex and forms part of the US space agency’s Deep Space Network which has similar research centres in California and Spain.
“We work very closely with our colleagues at our sister stations in the United States and Spain to provide this 24-hour coverage of the entire universe,” said Glen Nagle, Education and Public Outreach Manager at the Canberra complex.
Nagle envisions the antennae as aiding with communications in NASA missions to the Moon, Mars and even robotic missions to Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons which is thought to have a subterranean water ocean.
“This new antenna does give us additional capabilities to be able to array with other dishes so that we can combine their power to look at spacecraft even further away… and across higher frequencies as well,” he said.
Though the antenna was officially launched Thursday, it has been operating for several weeks and has assisted in more than 40 space missions.
The antenna is 34 metres wide and requires a staff of 20 to operate, out of the 87 who work at the site.