NASA to build two $45m space antennae in Canberra

US and Australia extend space vehicle tracking and communications facilities agreement

Visualisation of ASKAP antennae. Image credit: Paul Bourke

Visualisation of ASKAP antennae. Image credit: Paul Bourke

NASA will build two $45 million Beam Wave Guide Antennae at the Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex to help track space vehicles.

The two DSS36 antennae are expected to be built by 2016 in the town of Tidbinbilla as part of the Federal Government's $1.1 billion Super Science Initiative.

Australia and the US also celebrated their 50-year relationship in space exploration with the extension of the Agreement on Space Vehicle Tracking and Communications Facilities for two years.

The arrangement was formalised at a ceremony in Canberra by innovation minister, Senator Kim Carr, and the US Ambassador Jeffrey L Bleich.

“I’m thrilled that Tidbinbilla will be the first node of the global deep space communications network to receive this upgrade,” Carr said in a statement.

“The new antenna is a multi-decade commitment to continue using the Tidbinbilla complex as a hub for deep space communication."

In other news, the first of 36 identical 12-metre antennae that will make up the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope being constructed in Western Australia is being assembled and will shortly undergo testing.

The first six antennae of the project are due to be operational by 2011 and the complete ASKAP system is expected to be completed by 2013.

The Australian National Research and Education Network (AARNet) also began its search for a supplier to undertake the construction and installation of the fibre optic cable in Western Australia from the Murchison Radio Observatory near Boolardy to the CSIRO-run support base in Geraldton.

The fibre optic cable will form part of the essential infrastructure connecting the ASKAP system to CSIRO and its research partners in Australia and around the world.

The ASKAP project will capture data on the evolution of galaxies, dark matter and energy, providing insight into the origins of the universe about 13 billion years ago.

It is expected to present enormous engineering challenges as it will create huge amounts of data that require massive amounts of processing power and storage in order to create useful information.

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