ESA Ready To Cut Ribbon on Argentine Tracking Station

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PARIS — The European Space Agency (ESA) will inaugurate Dec. 18 the third and last of its 35-meter-diameter deep-space tracking antennas, a 610,000-kilogram structure in Argentina that joins to similar facilities in Australia and Spain, the agency announced Dec. 14.

The Argentine facility, built with the collaboration of Argentina’s CONAE space agency, will be operated for 50 years under the agreement between the two agencies. CONAE will receive X- and Ka-band data from the missions tracked, including ESA’s Mars Express, Venus Express, the future BepiColombo mission to Mercury and the Juice mission to Jupiter, ESA said.

The antenna is located in Malargue, 1,200 kilometers west of Buenos Aires, at an altitude of about 1,500 meters in a desert far from radio-frequency interference sources. ESA had sifted through several dozen candidate sites in Argentina and Chile before deciding on Malargue.

The antenna is equipped with a 20-kilowatt amplifier to beam signals deep into space. Its low-noise amplifiers, cooled to minus 258 degrees Centigrade, are designed to capture weak signals from as far away as beyond Jupiter.

The facility, which is about six months behind its original schedule, is set to become operational in early 2013, ESA said.