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Journey to Mars supported by new Canberran antenna

A new antenna that may one day help humans communicate from Mars to Earth will be officially unveiled near Canberra on Thursday.

Deep Space Station 36 - the latest antenna to be built at the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex - first started operating on October 1.

The 34-metre beam waveguide antenna will play an important role in NASA's Journey to Mars by allowing for science, tracking and command data to be sent back and forth from Earth.

It is also tipped to support missions to Jupiter's moon, Europa, and a move towards human travel beyond Earth's orbit in the next decade.

Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex director Ed Kruzins said the CSIRO-managed NASA facility worked "hand in glove" with similar facilities in Madrid, Spain, and Goldstone in the US.

The network currently provides communications and tracking service to 35 different space missions.

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Eighty-seven staff work in the Canberra complex, 20 of whom operate the antennae.

"They're very complex antennae, there's a lot in them," Dr Kruzins said.

"Something will happen and something has to be done and an operator will step in and rescue them.

"It's a bit like a pilot in an aircraft. The pilot needs to be there if something goes wrong."

NASA associate administrator RobertLightfoot jr, Jet Propulsion Laboratory deputy director Lieutenant General Larry James and Industry, Innovation and Science Assistant Minister Craig Laundy will attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday.

"This is a showpiece in cooperation in advanced engineering to build the new antenna," Dr Kruzins said.

"It's a hand-shaking operation between the CSIRO, NASA, JPL and General Dynamics, and to me it just showcases the fantastic collaboration we've had with all these partners."

CSIRO chief executive Larry Marshall said: "CSIRO has partnered with NASA for 50 years, from capturing man's first steps on the moon to the first images of Pluto."

DSS36 is the second new antenna constructed at Tidbinbilla as part of the Deep Space Network Aperture Enhancement Project.

Dr Kruzins said there were "very tentative" plans for another antenna to be built between 2020 and 2022.