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17 February 2023 Statement

Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, has signed a five-year agreement with US-based company SpaceX to support their future space missions.


Under the agreement CSIRO’s iconic Parkes radio telescope – Murriyang – as well as other telescopes owned and operated by the agency, will provide ground station downlink services to select SpaceX missions.


This and other similar commercial agreements tap into CSIRO’s expertise and proven track record.


The Parkes telescope has a long history providing spacecraft tracking services for NASA and other international space agencies.


CSIRO also manages the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex for NASA, and the New Norcia ground station for the European Space Agency.


Dr Douglas Bock, CSIRO’s Director of Space and Astronomy, said the agreement with SpaceX recognises CSIRO’s experience operating large, complex spacecraft tracking and radio astronomy infrastructure.


“Our Parkes radio telescope began supporting NASA space missions in 1962, when it tracked the first interplanetary space mission, Mariner 2, as it flew by the planet Venus,” Dr Bock said.


“The telescope, along with NASA’s Honeysuckle Creek tracking station, famously received the television signals from the Apollo 11 Moon landing watched by more than 600 million people around the world.


“Most recently, the telescope received data from Voyager 2 as it entered interstellar space in conjunction with the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex.


“Providing ground station services for space missions complements the astronomy research conducted with our telescopes and helps to maintain their capabilities as world-class research instruments,” he said.


The Parkes telescope, given the name Murriyang by local Wiradjuri elders, is valuable for spacecraft tracking due to its large dish surface and advanced data acquisition systems.


While the telescope recently celebrated its 60th anniversary, its technical systems have been upgraded many times keeping it at the cutting edge of research into understanding our Universe.

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