We manage and operate one of NASA's three tracking stations that provide continuous, two-way radio contact with spacecraft exploring our Solar System and beyond.

Located at Tidbinbilla, just outside Australia's capital city, the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex is one of three Deep Space Network stations around the world. The Complex's sister stations are located at Goldstone in California, and near Madrid in Spain. Together, the three stations provide around-the-clock contact with more than 30 spacecraft, including missions to study Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Pluto, comets, the Moon and the Sun.

There are currently five antennas operating at the Canberra station: one 70-metre and four 34-metre radio dishes that receive data from, and transmit commands to, spacecraft on deep space missions.

[Music plays and lines appear over the screen and CSIRO logo and text appears: Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex, Deep Space Station 36 Opening]

[Image appears of Deep Space Station 36 and then the image changes to show a side view of Deep Space Station 36]

[Image changes to show a back view of a group of people walking through a field]

[Image changes to show Deep Space Station 36 and then the camera zooms in on Deep Space Station 36 and then the camera zooms in on the topmost point of Deep Space Station 36 and the satellite dish]

Dr. Ed Kruzins: Good morning everyone.

[Image changes to show Dr. Ed Kruzins talking to the camera and text appears: Dr. Ed Kruzins, CDSCC Director]

Today we celebrate a special milestone,

[Image changes to show the satellite dish of Deep Space Station 36 moving from a side downward facing direction to an upward facing direction]

the commissioning of Deep Space Station 36.

[Image changes to show Mr. Robert Lightfoot Junior at a podium talking and then the camera zooms in on Mr. Robert M. Lightfoot Jr. and text appears: Mr. Robert M. Lightfoot Jr., NASA Associate Administrator]

Mr. Robert M. Lightfoot Jr: You know, for 60 years the U.S. and Australia have been partners in space exploration.

[Image changes to show two CSIRO flags and a NASA flag and then the image changes to show a view of Deep Space Station 36]

NASA’S relationship with Australia actually goes back to ’58 when we started,

[Image changes to show a facing view of a group of people walking towards the camera]

when NASA was actually established.

[Image shows two females in the group in conversation]

Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon,

[Image changes to show a back view of a group of people walking up to the back of Deep Space Station 36]

the landing of the Curiosity Rover on Mars,

[Image changes to show a group of people mounting the steps to Deep Space Station 36]

Voyager’s transition into interstellar space.

[Image changes to show Mr. Robert M. Lightfoot Jr. at a podium on the stage talking]

These were not their milestones just for NASA or for the United States.

[Camera zooms in on Mr. Robert M. Lightfoot Jr.’s face as he talks to the camera]

These are milestones, frankly, for all of humanity and all that like to explore and I think that’s written in the human hearts of all of us.

[Music plays and the image changes to show Deep Space Station 36 rotating in an anticlockwise direction and then the camera zooms in on the CSIRO and NASA flags in front of Deep Space Station 36]

[Image changes to show facing view of a group of males in front of Deep Space Station 36 and then the camera zooms in on a group of people climbing the steps on Deep Space Station 36]

Mr. Larry James: This antenna gives us added capability to bring data back from all of our experiments across the Solar System.

[Image changes to show Mr. Larry James talking to the camera and text appears: Mr. Larry James JPL Deputy Director]

So, whether it’s Rovers on Mars, or spacecraft orbiting around Jupiter or Saturn,

[Image changes to show a male waving from the steps on Deep Space Station 36 and then the image shows a female at the base of Deep Space Station 36]

this Deep Space Network Antenna and the antenna like it around the world are absolutely critical to be able to get that data back.

[Image changes to show a view of Deep Space Station 36 in a field and then the image changes to show Hon. Craig Laundy MP talking to the camera and text appears: Assistant Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science]

Hon. Craig Laundy MP: From eight hours each day next year we will take the lead in Australia of being the communications hub

[Image changes to show a group of people milling around and then the image changes to show the CSIRO flag]

for all space exploration happening by NASA

[Image shows a group of people wearing hard hats and then the image changes to show Hon. Craig Laundy MP talking to the camera]

and I think that is a great testament to the role that we have played historically but also a great testament to the foundation that we will build into the future with our partners in the U.S. and NASA.

[Image changes to show Mr. Robert M. Lightfoot Jr. talking to the camera]

Mr. Robert M. Lightfoot Jr: If you think about what has come through these antennas at this site, it’s just historic.

[Image changes to show a group of males in conversation]

We talk about being in Space but you don’t go to Space without having this on the ground to get the data back.

[Image changes to show seven males lined up behind a red ribbon and the image shows the ribbon being cut simultaneously by all seven]

Male: One, two three, go.

[Image shows Larry Marshall shaking hands with the other six males and clapping sounds can be heard]

[Image changes to show Dr. Larry Marshall talking to the camera and text appears: Dr. Larry Marshall, Chief Executive, CSIRO]

Dr. Larry Marshall: I never dreamed that I’d actually be running the Organisation that brought back the images from Pluto, our outermost planet, or the dwarf planet, technically.

[Image changes to show Dr. Larry Marshall signing a document and then the image changes to show Larry James signing a document and then the image changes to show the document with the signatures below a photograph of Deep Space Station 36]

But from the moon to Pluto in my lifetime, and I really believe that before I die I’ll actually see man set foot on Mars and what an amazing achievement that’ll be.

[Image changes to show a male science student talking and three female science students listening and text appears: Science Students, Melrose High school]

Male Student: It’s been an absolute honour to be here representing the school.

[Image changes to show Female Student 1 talking to the camera]

Female Student 1: There’s going to be so many more opportunities for our generation especially using these antennas, not just to explore in our Solar System but beyond our Solar System as well.

[Image changes to show Female Student 2 talking to the camera]

Female Student 2: Well it’s kind of beyond my comprehension. I mean before we thought it wouldn’t be possible to go to the moon but we made it. So, you know, anything is possible and it’ll be great to see.

[Image changes to show Mr. Robert Lightfoot Jr. talking to the camera]

Mr. Robert M. Lightfoot Jr: We have gone to every planet in the Solar System now. We’ve sent a probe to every planet in the Solar System.

[Image changes to show Dr. Larry Marshall and other males putting on hard hats]

That’s the past.

[Image changes to show males wearing hard hats walking towards the camera and then the image shows a side view of the males walking]

So, you start thinking about taking humans beyond where we’ve ever taken them before. I can’t even imagine that moment that Neil Armstrong, the moment of the first boot on Mars.

[Camera zooms out to show a group of people wearing hard hats and walking]

I mean that is just an incredible thing to think about, right.

[Image changes to show Larry James walking along in conversation with other males]

We’re going to rewrite textbooks. We’re supposed to discover and explore. That’s what we do and then I think that’s what gets me excited

[Image changes to show Mr. Robert M. Lightfoot Jr. talking to the camera]

because now the next round for that exploration is Space and further into Space. So, I get pretty stoked about it.

[CSIRO logo and text appears: Big ideas start here, www.csiro.au]

Growing ground-control for NASA

Tracking spacecraft with Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex

In 2015 the Canberra station celebrated 50 years of operation. In 1965 it helped to receive the first close-up pictures of the surface of Mars, taken by the Mariner 4 spacecraft. Since then, it has been involved in hundreds of missions, including the Apollo missions to the Moon, the Skylab space station, and the early flights of the Space Shuttle. In August 2012 it carried the signals confirming the landing of the rover Curiosity on Mars, and in 2015 it received some of the first images of Pluto from the New Horizons spacecraft.

The Complex is currently supporting missions, including:

  • Mars missions, including the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers
  • Messenger spacecraft currently orbiting Mercury
  • New Horizons spacecraft travelling to Pluto and beyond, and
  • Voyager 1 and 2, which have been in space for over 40 years.

Not all these missions are NASA's. From time to time the Complex also supports the missions of other space organisations.

Research with Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex

The Complex is also involved in radio astronomy research. NASA makes available approximately five per cent of time on the 70-m antenna for research programs, which includes detection of objects such as black holes and pulsars, radio-frequency cataloguing, and linking with other telescopes for high-resolution imaging using a technique called very long baseline interferometry.

Fast facts about Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex

  • The Complex is a NASA facility managed by CSIRO on behalf of the Australian Government; it operates through a government-to-government, treaty-level agreement.
  • Activities of the Deep Space Network are coordinated by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
  • The Canberra station was officially opened on 19 March 1965; it was then known as the Tidbinbilla Deep Space Instrument Facility.
  • Tidbinbilla was chosen as the location for the Australian facility because it is close to the capital, Canberra, and hills shield the site from radio-frequency interference.
  • The Complex's antennas operate at frequencies from 1660 MHz to 32 GHz.
  • Each day the antennas receive hundreds of gigabytes of data, including thousands of images, from dozens of spacecraft.
  • Approximately 90 staff support the 24-hour operation of the Complex.
  • The 26-metre antenna that was originally located at Honeysuckle Creek and returned the first images of the Apollo 11 Moon walk in 1969 has been retired and relocated to the station at Tidbinbilla.

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