The European Space Agency said its new NNO-2 satellite tracking antenna in Western Australia has been declared operational after it became technically fit for service in December last year.
According to the ESA, the new dish will track launches from Kourou spaceport, French Guiana in South America. These include the European Galileo positioning system satellites, the BepiColombo mission to planet Mercury, and ExoMars to Mars.
ESA said the new aerial is just 4.5 metres across, allowing it to quickly and accurately lock onto satellite and rocket launches and track them during the criticial first orbits, up to approximately 100,000 kilometres above Earth.
The new dish can be used with the existing 35 metre diameter DSA 1 deep space tracking antenna also located at New Norcia in WA, which has been in service since 2002. This can follow missions such as Rosetta and Mars Express hundreds of millions of kilometres away, but it is not ideal for signalling to craft near Earth due to its size.
NNO-2 uses a transceiver in the X-band range, 7.25 GHz to 7.75 GHz for receiving and 7.9 GHz to 8.4 GHz for sending. The dish can also pick up telemetry for launch tracking in the 2-4GHz S-band.
The space agency said it has spent around A$9.5 million on the design, build and installation of the new antenna.
The ESA operates the Estrack tracking and control network with nine stations in seven countries.
Having a tracking station situated in Western Australia is critical for most European launches, but the space agency was forced move from Perth as urban sprawl and radio interference from television broadcast vans made the location untenable.
The move to the new station outside New Norcia was completed last year, with the Perth station decommissioned in December.
New Norcia is remotely controlled from the European space operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany, and is operated by Inmarsat.
The station is equipped with delta differential one-way ranging technology for accurate spacecraft location finding and tracking, and a GPS tracking and data analysis facility dual-frequency receiver system with continuous measurements sent to the operations centre.
The ESA said New Norcia also hosts facilities that enable scientists to analyse received signals to perform radio science experiments.