The Canberra (or Tidbinbilla) Deep Space Communications Complex (CDSCC) is part of NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN) – a combination of three deep space communications facilities spaced around the globe at approximately 120° apart. The other two complexes are near Madrid, Spain, and in California’s Mojave Desert. The CDSCC is located near the Tidbinbilla nature reserve, 40 minutes from Canberra, Australia.
The combination of the three facilities allows uninterrupted monitoring of spacecraft, as well as the collection of radio and visual data. The CDSCC antennae are currently tracking such spacecraft as Voyager I and Voyager II, Mars Odyssey and Galileo.
The CDSCC was constructed in 1963 and completed in 1964. The site was chosen for its proximity to a small yet growing city, with surrounding hills that would block out radio and light pollution. The 26 metre antenna “Deep Space Station 42” was the main piece of equipment. Since then, two more antennae have been added, and extensions carried out, so that the complex now has in operation a 26 metre, two 34 metre and one 70 metre antennae. The 70 metre antenna is the largest steerable parabolic antenna in the southern hemisphere. An 11 metre antenna was added (but has now been decommissioned) as part of an array using Very Long Baseline Interferometery (VLBI) techniques, which gives the effect of a radio telescope of immense proportions. There is also a small antenna that tracks NAVSTAR GPS satellites.
The visitors’ centre at the complex is an excellent education facility. Exhibits include a moonrock from the Apollo 11 expedition; fragments of Skylab; flight suits and space helmets worn by various astronauts (including one of Judy Resnik’s - who died in the 1986 Challenger explosion); and various other space flight memorabilia. Models and photographs abound – pictures of the Venusian surface from the Magellan spacecraft; a 1/15 model of the U.S. Space shuttle; and a full scale engineering model of the Lunar Module Descent Engine. School groups are encouraged and supported – with teacher resource packs and student activity sheets available.
Other related Australian facilities include the Siding Spring Observatory and Mount Stromlo Observatory – the latter now sadly devastated by bushfires.