I have always been fascinated by space and what is out there in the great beyond, so it was with delight that Paula and I took my grandaughter Ce’Nedra to visit the deep space communication centre at Tidbinbilla.
I have been a few times over the years but haven’t been fortunate enough to time my visit with a time at which the antennas are scheduled to transmit or receive data from spacecraft exploring the Solar System and beyond. Of course in the early days there wasn’t much in the way of spacecraft to monitor. But nowadays the skies are abundant in objects that need to be monitored and communicated with.
We were very fortunate because the gentleman who was on hand to answer questions was a veritable font of knowledge about each of the antennae and was more than happy to provide information and statistics to his enrapt audience (well me, anyway).
If you are interested is seeing what is being tracked here is a link to the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex in Tidinbilla https://www.cdscc.nasa.gov/Pages/trackingtoday.htm, and also to the NASA Deep Space Network https://eyes.nasa.gov/dsn/dsn.html.
The largest of the antenna is the DSS43, which is 73 metres high and weighs more than 7 million kilograms.It took approx. 4 years to build. It is the largest steerable parabolic antennae in the Southern Hemisphere, and rotates on a film of oil that is approx. 0.17mm thick. The outer panels are perforated so the wind and rain can pass through.
it has a reflective surface made up of 1272 aluminium panels and a surface area of 4180 square meters. It’s hard to put it into perspective just looking at it, but the centre structure is 5 stories high.
We watched the antennae move from monitoring and communicating with Voyager 1, into resting position, and then it rotated to start communicating with Voyager 2. In fact the antennae was extended from being 64 metres to 70 metres so that it could communicate with spacecraft at greater distances from earth as their signal became weaker. And in particular, Voyager 2 in it’s 1989 encounter with Neptune.
After watching the antennae do it’s thing we had lunch at the Moon Rock cafe, which was very tasty and filling. Then it was off to see the rest of the exhibits. Here we learnt about the many space missions that have taken place, found out how astronauts eat, drink, exercise and carry out various bodily functions while they are in space.