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Title: First results of the Test-Bed Telescopes (TBT) project: Cebreros telescope commissioning.
Author: Francisco Ocaña, Aitor Ibarra, Elena Racero, Angel Montero, Jirí Doubek, Vicente Ruiz

The TBT project is being developed under ESA's General Studies and Technology Programme (GSTP), and shall implement a test-bed for the validation of an autonomous optical observing system in a realistic scenario within the Space Situational Awareness (SSA) programme of the European Space Agency (ESA). The goal of the project is to provide two fully robotic telescopes, which will serve as prototypes for development of a future network. The system consists of two telescopes, one in Spain and the second one in the Southern Hemisphere. The telescope is a fast astrograph with a large Field of View of 2.5 x 2.5 square-degrees and a plate scale of 2.2 arcsec/pixel. The tube is mounted on a fast direct-drive mount moving with speed up to 20 degrees per second. The focal plane hosts a 2-port 4K x 4K back-illuminated CCD with readout speeds up to 1MHz per port. Detection software and hardware are optimised for the detection of NEOs and objects in high Earth orbits (objects moving from 0.1-40 arcsec/second). Every night it takes all the input needed and prepares a schedule following predefined rules allocating tasks for the telescopes. Telescopes are managed by RTS2 control software, that performs the real-time scheduling of the observation and manages all the devices at the observatory.1 At the end of the night the observing systems report astrometric positions and photometry of the objects detected. The first telescope was installed in Cebreros Satellite Tracking Station in mid-2015. We evaluate the site characteristics and the performance of the TBT Cebreros telescope in the different modes and strategies. Average residuals for asteroids are under 0.5 arcsecond, while they are around 1 arcsecond for upper-MEO and GEO satellites. The survey depth is dimmer than magnitude 18.5 for 30-second exposures with the usual seeing around 4 arcseconds.

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Forty years ago, on 19 May 1975, a satellite ground station in Spain became the first to be assigned to what would become ESA. Since then, the Estrack network has expanded worldwide and today employs cutting-edge technology to link mission controllers with spacecraft orbiting Earth, voyaging deep in our Solar System and anywhere in between. 
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ESTRACK
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On 21 March ESA and NASA signed an agreement in Washington, DC, extending the two agencies' long-standing cooperation in the areas of satellite tracking, spacecraft navigation and mission operations.
 The agencies' new "Network and Operations Cross-support" agreement covers the ongoing provision to each other of services for missions where no specific Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is in place, typically due to the short-term nature or limited scope of the support.
This type of support has been provided in the past, but was limited only to the sharing of ground tracking stations and had to be arranged for each mission separately through a Letter of Agreement (LoA), which was a long process.

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The European Space Agency is set to open a deep space communication antenna, to track the soon-to-be-launched Venus Express mission to Venus.
The space agency will inaugurate the 35-metre-diameter radio antenna in Cebreros (Avila, Spain), on 28 September, just in time for the October launch of its Venus Express spacecraft.
The official opening ceremony for this new ESA facility will take place at the Cebreros ground station. ESA’s Director of Operations, Gaele Winters, and ESA Director of Science, David Southwood, will be present.

A press briefing will be held at 11:30.

IMAGE (377k, 799 x 1061)

ESA opened its first 35-metre antenna in New Norcia, Australia, in 2002. It has been dedicated to tracking the Mars Express spacecraft, currently in orbit around the Red Planet.
The agency is also considering building a third antenna somewhere in the Pacific time zone in North or South America in 2009. This is because an optimised space communications network needs antennas positioned 120° from each other around the globe to keep spacecraft in sight as the Earth rotates.

Although located in Spain, the new antenna will be controlled remotely from ESA's European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany.
Until three years ago, for missions requiring such a facility, ESA had to rely on NASA’s Deep Space Network. ESA’s Science programme for the next decade includes many deep space missions, and independent access to deep space was identified as a necessity. In 2002, ESA’s first deep-space antenna, located in New Norcia, Australia, began operations.

Cebreros was chosen as the site on which to build ESA’s second deep-space antenna for several reasons. Since this antenna had to be positioned 120 degrees East or West of the antenna in Australia, an ideal location would have been ESA’s European Centre for Space Astronomy, located in Villafranca, near Madrid.

However, active urban development in the ESAC surroundings could have caused interference. The Cebreros location, which already hosted an old NASA station not in use anymore, is equally good and is away from densely populated areas.
The Cebreros dish is 35 metres in diameter. The entire structure is 40 metres high and weighs about 630 tons.
It has been completed in almost two years by an industrial consortium led by the Canadian company SED Systems. Spanish firms Esteyco and Necso built the antenna tower infrastructure, and LV Salamanca was responsible for the building refurbishment. The total cost of the new station amounts to €30 million, €22million of which covers the antenna.
The Cebreros antenna incorporates state-of-the-art technology which provides some advantages compared to the New Norcia facility. For instance, the Cebreros data acquisition capacity is higher, due to the fact that it will receive signals in the Ka band (31.8 - 32.3 GHz). Cebreros also has a higher pointing accuracy, with a maximum error of 6.0 milligrade degrees.

In normal conditions, the antenna will be remotely operated from ESA’s European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany.
The Cebreros antenna will begin operations in October with the launch of ESA’s mission to Venus, Venus Express. Other interplanetary spacecraft, such as the comet-chaser Rosetta, Mercury mission BepiColombo and space telescopes Herschel/Planck and Gaia will also be tracked by the new Cebreros antenna in the near future.

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On 9 June, a powerful new 35-metre antenna, presently undergoing acceptance testing at Cebreros, Spain, successfully picked up signals and tracked Rosetta and SMART-1.
It is ESA's second deep-space ground station in its class and adds Ka-band reception capability and high pointing precision to the ESTRACK network.

Construction of the new ground station, located in the Spanish province of Avila, has proceeded in record time. Procurement activities started in February 2003, and in spring 2004, on-site work was initiated.
After successful assembly of the antenna structure in November 2004 and the acceptance testing of radio-frequency components, the system is now entering final on-site testing. All portions of the antenna's infrastructure, including power systems, buildings and communications, are already complete and are ready to hand over for operations.


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Tuned in to signals from distant space

Successful reception of signals from the two spacecraft demonstrates that the antenna is working well. Rosetta, Europe's comet-chaser, is presently 46 million km from Earth while SMART-1 is orbiting the Moon.
Cebreros will be capable of receiving signals in the X and Ka bands. The X band (7-8 GHz) is used for routine telecommanding and to transmit high-volume data to Earth; the Ka band (32 GHz) offers enhanced data reception rates and will be used for future missions.

Additional measurements using radio-emitting stars gave good first results with respect to pointing accuracy and antenna performance, indicating that the station's specifications will be met.
Full operational readiness of the antenna is anticipated for 30 September 2005, and Cebreros is subsequently scheduled to swing into operation to support the Venus Express mission, scheduled for launch on 26 October 2005.

With Cebreros, Spain, and New Norcia, Australia, ESA spacecraft operations will benefit from two 35-metre deep-space antennas. Future plans foresee the possible construction of a third 35-metre station at an American longitude to become ready by the end of 2009.

ESTRACK family grows

Cebreros is the latest station to join ESTRACK, ESA's worldwide network of ground stations operated from the agency's Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany. Ground stations are used for sending commands to spacecraft and receiving data from onboard instruments.
With Cebreros, there are 8 stations in ESTRACK, located in Europe, Africa, South America and Australia. Additional stations in Kenya, Chile and Norway are available when needed. The system is highly automated and most stations run with little or no manned intervention for routine operations, providing a significant cost benefit.

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