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Over fifty years of space collaboration between Australia and the United States

26 February 2015

Joint media release with the Parliamentary Secretary for Industry and Science, the Hon Karen Andrews MP

Today marks the anniversary of one of Australia’s most significant achievements in international science collaboration – it’s exactly 55 years to the day since the original space communication and tracking agreement was signed between Australia and the United States on the 26th of February 1960.

Minister for Industry and Science Ian Macfarlane said the two nations had partnered together for over half a century to achieve many breakthrough discoveries and historic firsts in the realm of space exploration.

“From the television coverage of the first moonwalk and the first flybys of Mercury and Venus, to the amazing surface views of Mars and first-time encounters of Pluto, the United States and Australia have shared many significant space exploration moments,” Mr Macfarlane said.

“Since signing the agreement, our partnership with NASA, especially through their Deep Space Network, has contributed significantly to our nation’s strategic relationship with the United States.”

The two countries’ major cooperative activity is the CSIRO-managed Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex at Tidbinbilla outside Canberra, one of three Deep Space Network stations capable of providing two-way radio contact with robotic deep space missions.

The Complex’s sister stations are located in California and also in Spain. Together, the three stations provide around-the-clock contact with over 35 spacecraft exploring the solar system and beyond.

The anniversary comes as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry and Science Karen Andrews meets with representatives from NASA’s Space Communication and Navigation (SCaN) division today to discuss the potential for growth in cooperation between the two countries.

NASA provides around $20 million a year to the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, totalling more than $800 million in funding over the past 50 years, which includes employment for more than 90 people.

“In August 2012, the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex supported the spectacular landing of the Curiosity Rover on Mars and this July it will have another starring role, receiving some of the first images of Pluto from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft,” Mrs Andrews said.

“In order to bring those images all the way back from Pluto, NASA has generously invested in the future of the Complex with the building of two new deep space communication antennas at a cost of around $120 million.”

The first of the two new NASA antenna dishes, Deep Space Station 35, incorporates the latest in Beam Waveguide technology that increases the sensitivity and capacity for tracking, commanding and receiving data from spacecraft located across billions of kilometres of space. Now operational, Deep Space Station 35 was also officially commissioned this week.

“NASA’s commitment complements the Australian Government’s contribution of over $9.2 billion annually in science and research, which reflects our Government’s understanding that good science will be at the heart of industry and productivity growth across Australia.”

Media contacts:
Mr Macfarlane's office 02 6277 7070
Mrs Andrews office 02 6277 4360