NASA to Track Space Flights with Help of South Africa's New Ground Station

A new deep-space ground station being built in South Africa’s semi-desert Karoo area will come online by 2025 to support tracking history-making NASA missions to the moon and beyond, space agency officials said Tuesday.

Through its Artemis program, which aims to land the first woman or person of color on the moon by 2025, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is focusing on this month for an inaugural send-off of its next-generation rocket ship, postponed for weeks by technical errors and bad weather condition.

“Next week we should expect to launch the first flight of Artemis,” said Badri Younes, deputy associate administrator, and manager at NASA’s Space Communication and Navigation (SCaN) unit.

“It won’t be until 2025 when we are going to send the third Artemis and the third Artemis will land astronauts on the moon, and… the first person to land on the moon (this time) is going to be a woman of color,” Younes told the news agency.

“This is going to be one of three stations supporting the communication with each of our astronauts in and around the moon and providing viable services to our entire Moon to Mars program,” Younes said at a signing ceremony in the tiny village of Matjiesfontein, 237 km (147 miles) north of Cape Town.

Matjiesfontein, which is the only third essential site being developed universally, will become part of a network of other ground stations in the United States and Australia. Designed with an array of antennae, involving a three-story, 20 meters (22 yards) diameter dish being obtained by NASA, the station will help improve coverage and redundancy for critical mission support to the moon, Mars, and beyond, officials said.

The South African National Space Agency (SANSA) will establish, work, and keep up the station. Close to key communication and transport infrastructure, the remote site was chosen due to its geographic location with clear skies and low radio interference. South Africa has committed an initial 70 million rand ($3.93 million) to construct the infrastructure and communications needed to prepare the site, part of the government’s investment in building its space framework and research base.

“NASA would not come to South Africa if they didn’t feel that we have capacities to do the work in partnership with them,” said Phil Mjwara, director general at South Africa’s department of science and innovation.

By Archana

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