Maspalomas Station

 

The Evergreen Misty Forest

Maspalomas Station is an INTA-operated, ESTRACK radio antenna ground station for communication with spacecraft located at the southern area of Gran Canaria island, on the INTA campus. It is situated on the Montaña Blanca hill and is visible from the coastal resort of Meloneras, close to Maspalomas. It was originally established in the 1960s to support NASA's nascent human spaceflight program.

History

From the 1950s the momentum was growing in the Space Race to develop spaceflight. A need arose for an international network of tracking stations around the globe to communicate with satellites and crewed space capsules and to control their flight trajectory. On 18 March 1960, the Spanish and US Governments signed an agreement to establish a NASA satellite ground station on Gran Canaria, the first in Spain. The location was chosen because Maspalomas is on the same latitude as Cape Canaveral, with the two locations separated only by the Atlantic Ocean.

The original Maspalomas Station was built by NASA close to the Maspalomas Lighthouse in 1960. It was initially set to provide support for NASA's first human spaceflight mission, the Mercury Program, one of 14 such stations in the Manned Space Flight Network (MSFN) distributed around the globe. It came into operation on 13 September 1961 to support the Mercury-Atlas 4 test flight, and continued to take part in Mercury missions, including John Glenn’s Mercury-Atlas 6 Earth orbit. Subsequently, Maspalomas participated in the ground control network for NASA's crewed flight programme Project Gemini (1965-1966).

The expansion of tourism in the southern part of Grand Canaria threatened the radio quiet zone around Maspalomas station. NASA agreed with INTA and the Spanish Government to move operations to a new, more remote site several kilometres away from the original site. The new ground station retained the name of Maspalomas.

Maspalomas Station continued to provide support for international space missions, including the launch of early communications satellites by Intelsat, who named their third satellite, Intelsat II F-3, Canary Bird after the Canary Islands.

Apollo program

Maspalomas Station supported a number of prominent NASA missions, including the Apollo program, the Apollo–Soyuz Test Project and the Skylab space station. For the Apollo 11 mission that landed the first humans on Moon in July 1969, Maspalomas Station acted as one of the receiving station for transmissions from the Apollo crew and relayed them to Houston using an analog link via London. On 16 July, at about sixteen and half minutes into the flight, the station in the Canary Islands acquired a signal from Apollo 11 for several minutes after the loss of signal to the USNS Vanguard positioned in the Atlantic Ocean.[5][6][7] Because of its location, Maspalomas was the first ground station to make contact with Apollo spacecraft once they entered orbit.

During the Moon landing on 20 July, Maspalomas provided the real-time backup for the MSFN station at the former Fresnedillas Station, Madrid (now the Madrid Deep Space Communications Complex) while the Apollo 11 crew made their first steps onto the Moon.

In October 1969, in recognition of the role played by Maspalomas Station, the Apollo 11 crew visited Gran Canaria as part of their 38-day world tour and stayed at the newly built Oasis Hotel in Maspalomas.

Later missions

After the Apollo Missions, Maspalomas supported a number of other important NASA projects, including the monitoring of the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP), a set of scientific instruments left by astronauts at the various Apollo landing sites, and the Skylab missions. In 1975, after the end of the Skylab 4 and the Apollo–Soyuz missions, NASA decommissioned Maspalomas Station and most of the functions were transferred to Madrid. Equipment from Maspalomas Station was sent over to the NASA station at Tananarive, on Madagascar (part of the Spacecraft Tracking and Data Acquisition Network).

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, ESA began to expand operations in Spain, establishing the Villafranca Station in 1978. Maspalomas Station was reopened in 1979 by the Comisión Nacional de Investigación del Espacio and INTA to provide services for ESA and NASDA and for programmes such as Hispasat, Helios and the International Cospas-Sarsat Programme.

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