The Center provides support services for interplanetary and moon missions and also promotes the development of radio science activities.
The Sardinia Deep Space Antenna (SDSA) shares part of the infrastructure of the Sardinia Radio Telescope (SRT) but also has its own equipment and a dedicated control center to ensure communication with spacecraft. Built by the Italian National Institute of Astrophysics (INAF) in partnership with the Italian Space Agency, the Region Sardinia and the Ministry of University and Research, the SRT focuses on radio astronomy and is operated by INAF.
The SDSA is officially part of NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN), but it is also meant to provide communication and navigation services for European interplanetary spacecraft missions in connection with ESA's ESTRACK network. The SDSA was established following agreements signed by ASI and INAF and an ad-hoc ASI-NASA agreement, which ensures its use for a multiplicity of interplanetary missions in cooperation with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The Sardinia Space Antenna will enable scientists to pick up even the faintest signals emitted by interplanetary satellites and probes traveling in deep space.
The final phase of the Cassini mission marked the debut of the Sardinia Deep Space Antenna, which tracked the very last days of the spacecraft before it plunged into Saturn's atmosphere on September 15 last.
The agreements ASI and INAF signed include the Agency's unique activities in the field of scientific research and technology, with infrastructure, equipment, and communication and tracking operations related to deep space and activities of common interest covering areas such as Radio Science, Space Debris tracking and Space Weather. The SDSA configuration has been expanded and will be scaled up in subsequent phases to give the country a full Deep Space Ground Capability that will lead Italy to be increasingly involved in current and future interplanetary missions.
To further the SDSA development program, steps will be taken to expand its equipment and staffing with a view to allowing the Antenna to reach its full operational capability by 2020. it will also provide all the services of an international deep space station, adding to today's X-band capability the Ka-band reception. Once the proper design phase is complete, it will allow for X- Band and Ka-Band transmission, the latter specifically fit for radio science.
The Italian Space Agency's first external research unit, located at the INAF Observatory in Cagliari, Italy, is already engaged in conducting data analysis, experimentation and research activities through the SDSA, spanning broad areas of space science and technology related to the different interplanetary missions. The SDSA unit also performs joint research activities with INAF in areas of common interest. An agreement between ASI and NASA signed in 2018, which followed the one signed in March 2017, regulates further planned SDSA capability development and support activities for NASA missions, including the acquisition of tracking and telemetry data from interplanetary probes, as well as system validation and mission operations. In addition, an agreement was signed between ASI and Cagliari University regarding research and development activities in various fields of space science research.
The entry into service of the Sardinia Deep Space Antenna is the first step on a long and ambitious path that aims to achieve full transmission and reception capabilities in order to contribute to the management of the many missions to Mars that will be launched from 2020 onwards.