When six spacecraft besiege Mars in early 2004, CSIRO will help NASA catch
as much data from them as possible.

The three tracking stations of NASA’s Deep Space Network – near Canberra,
Madrid in Spain and Goldstone in California – will be working flat out to
monitor the Mars craft and several others.

CSIRO oversees the operation of the Canberra station on NASA’s behalf.
“We’ve recently upgraded the station,” says station Director Mr Peter
Churchill. “We can now listen to two spacecraft and talk to one of them, all
at the same time through one antenna.”

And the Parkes telescope has been contracted to lend a hand by tracking some
of the Mars spacecraft and others from November 2003 to February 2004.

NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Odyssey probes are already orbiting the
planet. Six more missions will arrive in 2003-04.

NASA’s two robotic Mars Exploration Rovers will be looking for evidence of
liquid water and analysing rocks and soil. Nozomi, Japan’s first Mars probe,
will be studying the upper atmosphere. And Europe’s Mars Express will map
surface and subsurface structures. It will drop a British lander, Beagle 2,
which will search for signs of water and life.

NASA is spending $US54 million ($A100 million) to prepare the Deep Space
Network for the coming ‘traffic jam’.

The 64-m Parkes telescope has tracked NASA spacecraft from the 1960s through
to the 1990s. Its most prominent role, celebrated in the film “The Dish”,
was supporting the 1969 Apollo 11 Moon landing.

“Our ability to track spacecraft and to build the necessary technology flows
from our basic research in radio astronomy,” says John Brooks, Assistant
Director of CSIRO’s Australia Telescope National Facility (ATNF), which
operates the Parkes Observatory.

NASA will pay about $A3 million to cover Parkes’ tracking time, to build a
sensitive new signal receiver, and to upgrade the telescope’s surface.

Some of the wire mesh panels in the outer part of the dish will be replaced
with more even ones of perforated aluminium sheet, to enlarge the smooth
part of dish’s surface. This will make the dish more sensitive to signals at
8.4 GHz, the frequency at which the spacecraft will broadcast. The work will
be carried out by Sydney Engineering Pty Ltd.

The surface upgrade and the new receiver will double the amount of signal
power the telescope can collect at this frequency. “This is a major gain for
NASA and for the astronomers from all around the world who use the
telescope,” says Dr John Reynolds, Officer in Charge at the Parkes

Parkes Observatory staff member Mr John Sarkissian will give a free public
lecture on the history of the Parkes telescope’s involvement in space
tracking at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra on Sunday 29
September, 2:00-3:30 p.m.

More information:

Mr John Brooks, CSIRO Australia Telescope National Facility, 02-9372-4227

Mr Peter Churchill, Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex, 02-6201-7819

Dr John Reynolds, Officer-in-Charge, CSIRO Parkes Observatory, 02-6861-1733

Mr John Sarkissian, CSIRO, 02-6861-1769

Ms Jodie Cunningham, National Museum of Australia, 02-6208-5108

Bookings for Museum lecture 02-6208-5021


Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (with links to spacecraft

CSIRO Parkes Observatory: