Precise Movements: Earth-Bound Tracking Devices Help Manage Spacecraft
Deep-space exploration by robotic spacecraft requires the support of thousands of workers back on Earth in facilities around the world. Canberra, Australia hosts one of NASA’s 3 Deep Space Network (DSN) stations, operated by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). Each DSN station hosts one 70-meter and multiple 34-meter dishes that receive data from spacecraft across the solar system. Here, mechanical engineer Rachel Twomey (apprentice), servo systems engineer Paul Richter, and mechanical engineer Clayton Locke discuss maintenance on the hydrostatic azimuth bearing on the 70-meter antenna. The team is performing maintenance and installation on pump and oil-flow fittings. The hydrostatic bearing literally floats the moving structure of the antenna, which weighs about 4 million kilograms (8 million pounds), on a film of oil only 0.1 millimeter (4 thousandths of an inch) thick, permitting the gigantic antenna to smoothly track spacecraft as Earth rotates.