Two Near Earth Network antennas reassembled in Dongara, Australia for the U.S. Space Force Credit: NASA

ESC Network Facilitates Ground Station Development for the U.S. Space Force in Australia

U.S. Space Force Announces Collaborative Project between Near Earth Network and NOAA Operational

By Katherine Schauer

October 28, 2020

This blog post was written prior to a reorganization of ESC’s projects and networks in support of the agency’s commercialization effort. Though accurate at the time of publication, it is no longer being updated and may contain broken links or outdated information. For more information about the reorganization, click here.

The Exploration and Space Communications projects division fosters partnerships with other government agencies, academia, commercial industry, and more. Recently, the Near Earth Network (NEN) further cultivated NASA’s relationships with the U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Through a ground station development project, the NEN assisted the agencies with moving two antennas to the other side of the world – Dongara, Australia.

Having an established relationship with NASA and NOAA, the Air Force began exploring partnership opportunities in 2018 to obtain both an in-orbit satellite and two ground antennas to provide dedicated communications for that satellite. In response, NOAA transferred ownership of the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) 13 spacecraft to the Air Force. GOES-13 was launched in 2010 but was retired from the GOES system in early 2017, prior to the start of this project.

While NOAA handled the spacecraft ownership transition and drifting the spacecraft to its new orbit, the NEN was making preparations to relocate the two antennas. To complete the project, the NEN disassembled two NOAA antennas - a 13-meter located at the NOAA Wallops Command and Data Acquisition Station in Wallops Island, Virginia, and a 16-meter located at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Prior to antenna disassembly, the NEN conducted performance tests to establish a baseline measurement of the antennas’ performance. Once reassembled in Australia, the team would test against this measurement and evaluate the difference. Due to the antennas’ different sizes and different physical configurations, each required a unique disassembly process. For example, when taking down the 16-meter, the NEN brought in a 165-ton crane to lift off the upper portions of antenna. After disassembly, the NEN repaired and refurbished components that were outdated – ensuring that these 30-year-old antennas would function properly for the Space Force once reassembled.

Throughout the two year development project, the NEN collaborated with the Space Force and NOAA on a weekly basis, giving them updates on status, solving challenges and assuring them that the antennas would arrive in Australia on time and meet the performance requirements necessary to support the GOES-13 drift. Shipping the antennas required coordination with NASA Transportation, as well as significant analysis of cost and schedule. The organizations worked collaboratively to find the most efficient and cost-effective shipping solution. Because the 13-meter antenna needed to arrive in Australia first to support the spacecraft drift, the team opted to ship it to Long Beach, California, using four tractor trailers, where the cargo was then placed on a ship to Australia.

At the site in Australia, the NEN worked with established commercial partners to excavate the antenna sites, install the foundations and bases as well as reassemble the antennas. When the project began, the site was a wheat field. The teams transformed that field into an operational site with the two antennas and multiple functioning control rooms.

With the project completed, the U.S. Space Force renamed the GOES-13 spacecraft the Electro-Optical Infrared Weather System Geostationary-1 (EWS-G1) satellite, and declared it operational in September 2020. The weather data collected by EWS-G1 will show the result of this highly successful collaboration between the U.S. Air Force’s Space Force, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Near Earth Network.