ESA to build a deep space ground station in Cebreros (Spain)

Communicating with ESA’s spacecraft such as Mars Express, or SMART-1, Rosetta and Venus Express – yet to be launched – will be even easier and more effective when the new Cebreros ground station, near Avila (Spain), becomes operational in September 2005.

On 22 July, in Madrid, the Director General of ESA, Jean-Jacques Dordain, the Spanish Secretary of State for Defence, Mr Fernando Díez Moreno, and the Spanish Secretary of State for Science and Technology, Mr Pedro Morenés Eulate, will sign an agreement between ESA and the Kingdom of Spain that will pave the way for the installation of a new high-performance deep-space tracking station in Cebreros.

Communicating with spacecraft over very long distances, probes that have to be controlled remotely, together with their on board instruments, at distances up to 900 million kilometres from Earth (more than six times the distance from Earth to the sun) require huge and powerful antennas.

Through its control Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt (Germany), responsible for all spacecraft operations, ESA already has long experience of dealing with a large network of ground stations and antennas, including a 35 m deep-space antenna in New Norcia, north of Perth in Australia.

Back in the 1970s, ESA signed an agreement with Spain to use a satellite tracking station located at Villafranca del Castillo (Villanueva de la Cañada, Madrid). ESA/Villafranca has now become one of the most highly specialised spacecraft tracking stations in the world.

To support the new project and allow ESA to take a further step towards a real European Deep Space Network, the Government of Spain will grant the European Space Agency a 75-year lease on two plots of land that belong to the Ministry of Defence. One plot will accommodate the space tracking facilities and the 35m diameter deep-space antenna. The other will serve for the calibration tower, used to simulate the signals transmitted by spacecraft for testing. Construction work is scheduled to start in September this year.

“The new capabilities of the future antenna at Cebreros will significantly support the role of ESA in Spain. Moreover, in terms of radio-electric conditions, the Cebreros environment is perfect, and will give this new site an important growth potential,” according to ESA’s Director of Technical and Operational Support, Gaele Winters.

The network of antennas in Spain (Cebreros (Avila), Villafranca del Castillo (Villanueva de la Cañada, Madrid) and Robledo (Robledo de Chavela, Madrid, owned by NASA/JPL), will soon be one of the most important groups of satellite tracking stations worldwide, due to the optimum environment free of radio-electric disturbances, and will make a valuable additional contribution to the scientific and technological framework of European space activities.

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