Antenna’s mission complete


ESA maintenance and operations supervisor Colin Cassidy with the 15-metre antenna. Picture: Martin Kennealey        www.communitypix.com.au d449501
ESA maintenance and operations supervisor Colin Cassidy with the 15-metre antenna. Picture: Martin Kennealey        www.communitypix.com.au d449501

Based at the Perth International Telecommunications Centre in Cullacabardee, the European Space Agency (ESA) antenna was retired at the end of last year because the encroaching urban expansion increased the likelihood of frequency interference.

The 15m-diameter antenna was built in 1985 for the Giotto mission, where the spacecraft flew by and transmitted images of Halley’s Comet. In 1986 the antenna was moved from Carnarvon to Perth.

Colin Cassidy, who is the maintenance and operations supervisor for the ESA Perth ground station, worked with the antenna since 1996.

His team’s role included tracking satellites once they separated from rockets after launch and providing information to the European Space Operations Centre in Germany.

“Perth is actually geographically a critical part – it’s over WA where the satellites separate from the rockets,” Mr Cassidy said.

“Every mission is different, every day is different, it’s never boring.”

Missions have included Cluster to study how solar winds affect earth, comet chaser Rosetta, global navigation satellite system Galileo and the recently launched LISA Pathfinder.

Mr Cassidy said he was involved in four to six missions per year and spent from six to 12 months preparing prior to each launch.

“It’s exciting,” he said.

“It’s got good job satisfaction; we put a lot of work in leading up to it.

“But there’s a lot of pressure when things go wrong.”

Many people’s knowledge of Australia’s involvement in space missions would be limited to the film The Dish, which Mr Cassidy said was actually quite realistic.

“Though I’ve never played cricket on the dish before,” he said.

He said the retirement of the Perth antenna was inevitable.

“It was a bit disappointing but I knew it was coming,” he said.

“You can’t work somewhere for 20 years and not get attached.”

He and his team will now continue their work from the New Norcia ground station, where a new 4.5m-diameter antenna was built alongside the existing 35m-diameter deep space antenna.

Also read: International space experts converged in New Norcia last week for the inauguration of a new antenna.