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Carnarvon radio dish rotates for first time in 3 decades

Jake Nelson
Image: Parabolic antenna, OTC Satellite Earth Station Carnarvon, July 2020 02 by Calistemon via Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

A disused radio dish in Western Australia has partially rotated for the first time in 30 years as its new operator prepares to refurbish it for satellite tracking.

The historic 29-metre Overseas Telecommunications Commission (OTC) dish at Carnarvon, in the state’s north-west, was decommissioned in 1987, having previously been used for NASA missions. Canadian firm ThothX is now restoring it to working order for use in tracking geostationary satellites.

ThothX, which has a 20-year renewable lease for the site, intends to add a $10 million radar system to the dish following its expensive refurbishment.

According to Phil Youd, director at ThothX Australia and manager of the Carnarvon Space and Technology Museum, the project is “going very slowly, but … in the right direction”, with work still needed on the dish including new motors and electric brakes.


“The next step will be, if all goes to plan … our partner in Canada, he’s going to come out here and then bring a lot of equipment with him and then we’re going to see if we can point to a satellite and receive signals off of it,” he told the ABC.

Youd said he had recently visited ThothX’s 46-metre dish at the Algonquin Radio Observatory in Ontario.

“I was a little bit sceptical to begin with but after being there, I’m very impressed. Their dish is the same sort of vintage as this one built in the late 1960s,” he said.

“It’s quite impressive to see these old pieces of equipment that can be refurbished and actually used with all new tech that’s inside.”


Carnarvon Shire president Eddie Smith told the ABC last year that the dish returning to use would be a big positive for the town.

“It wasn’t earning any money, so it’s hard with the limited funding we have. We’d had a structural assessment done on it, and we were going out to see if we could get some grants, but then ThothX came along and fixed the problem.”

The dish, which opened in 1966, provided high-speed data and voice communications for space missions, and played a part in receiving the country’s first satellite TV broadcast, the Apollo 11 moon landing.

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