Cool tech to almost double deep space data

Wed, 13 Oct 2021 01:39:00 GMT
ESA Operations

An upgrade to ESA’s three 35-metre deep-space antennas will boost science data return by 40% by...

An upgrade to ESA's three 35-metre deep-space antennas will boost science data return by 40% by cooling the 'antenna feed' to just 10 degrees above the lowest temperature possible in the Universe.

While a new and sorely needed deep space antenna is being built in Australia, it's important - and economical - to squeeze as much performance out of pre-existing dishes as we can.

The antenna feed - the tech that connects the physical antenna to the electronic transmitter and receiver - at ESA's three 35-metre deep-space antennas is being cooled to just 10 degrees above absolute zero.

Future upgrades across higher frequency bands will mean an increase of 80 % more data can be downloaded - that's almost double the deep space data reaching Darmstadt!

This clever tech will also increase the sensitivity of ESA deep space antennas, extending their range to support future ESA missions that venture as far as Uranus and Neptune.

"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 in charge of the project together with Filippo Concaro.

"The upgrades have come at just the right time," says Andrea Accomazzo, Head of Solar System and Exploration Missions at ESA's space operations centre in Darmstadt.

The upgrade at Cebreros improves the rate at which data can be processed in X-band frequencies by up to 40%. ESA's Malargüe station will receive the same X band feed upgrade in 2022 along with a new 'Ka band' cryo-cooled feed, where the expected data rate increase will be as high as 80%. This will greatly benefit existing missions such as Bepicolombo and upcoming missions like Juice.

Not quite so cool, but equally necessary, ESA's smaller dishes in French Guiana and Sweden are getting various performance improving upgrades, readying the entire Estrack network for ESA's future plans in space.

At Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, ESA's 15-metre antenna is being upgraded with new 'TTCP modems', allowing maximum data rates in preparation for future Moon, Earth and 'No-name' space weather missions.

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