ESA’s deep-space communication station in Spain has received a ‘cool’ new upgrade.
The ‘antenna feed’ connecting the physical Ka-band antenna to the station’s electronic signal transmitter and receiver is now being cooled to -263°C. That’s just 10 degrees above the coldest temperature possible in the Universe.
Cryocooling the feed reduces ‘thermal noise’ – background interference that limits the sensitivity and data transfer rate of our antennas.
This photo shows the cryocooled technology undergoing a ‘noise temperature’ test onsite at its manufacturer, Callisto.
The upgrade is part of a series taking place at the three deep-space stations in ESA’s ‘Estrack’ network, located in New Norcia (Australia), Cebreros (Spain) and Malargüe (Argentina).
“With these upgrades, ESA is pushing the limits of what’s technically possible and enabling scientists to explore new worlds and gather unprecedented amounts of data,” says Stéphane Halté, ESA ground station engineer.
Estrack is one of only two global deep-space antenna networks on Earth and is a cornerstone of ESA’s international collaboration.
ESA missions and those of partner agencies such as NASA, JAXA and ISRO, as well as those of private companies, rely on Estrack to provide the vital communication link between mission control and distant spacecraft.
Demand for Estrack support is high, so ESA is constructing a second antenna in Australia and squeezing out maximum performance from its existing antennas by deploying new technologies such as cryocooled antenna feeds.