With more than 170 parabolic antennas on over 37 hectares of land, Fucino Space Centre, in Abruzzo, is the world’s biggest teleport. Used for telecommunications and for satellite command and control, the Space Centre contains antennas of different types and sizes, from the smallest parabolas, less than one metre in diameter, to the largest ones, measuring up to 33 metres in diameter, outlined against the horizon on the Fucino plain.
But antennas, like anything else, need maintenance and updating with time to maintain their levels of performance and efficiency.
This is one of the tasks of Concezio D'Amato, born in Abruzzo, with Telespazio since 1983, now an RF specialist in Operations. Concezio recently worked on a number of tasks with the “Antenna maintenance team”, and primarily with his colleague Guido Mancini, on one of Fucino’s biggest antennas: a unique task involving measurement and calibration operations, which, as will be clear in the pictures, take place right in the heart of the parabola, an otherworldly place.
We talked to Concenzio, who has done this type of work for Telespazio all over the world, to find out more about what it’s like.
In the picture it looks like you’re working on another planet, on the moon or maybe in the snow. What were you doing?
Technically speaking, I was checking the proper positioning of the antenna’s sub-reflector using a theodolite, an instrument for measuring angles with the utmost precision, around a ten thousandth of a degree. The performance of an antenna of this type is directly proportionate to the geometric precision with which its reflective surfaces are aligned, in this case with a precision of less than one millimetre. This alignment is performed when the antenna is installed, or, as in this case, following maintenance.
What are the greatest challenges involved in a task like this, and how do you prepare for it?
As the images reveal, the dimensions of the individual parts making up the parabola are truly impressive! So, our first task is a prior assessment, essential for positioning the instrument properly on the surface, according to the data to be collected and the degree of precision required. The theodolite is of course a highly sensitive instrument, and the mere presence of the operator, whose weight slightly deforms the panels below it, significantly alters the measurement. This is why we use points other than the structure of the parabola during preparation work, to eliminate or decrease the margin of error.
What safety measures are applied during the work?
The work is assessed in advance to ensure the utmost safety for the personnel involved. For example, getting up inside the parabola is a complicated step, which may be accomplished using a cherry picker or the walkways provided for the purpose, which are not very convenient and must be used with great care. All personnel working in this area therefore receive appropriate training and certification for working at a high level and are equipped with all the necessary safety equipment (PPE). Movement of the antenna is blocked as a further caution and safety measure. We were saying that the inside of the parabola looks like snow, and this is true for another reason. Considering how sunlight reverberates inside it, it’s impossible to work without sunglasses: another piece of safety equipment, added as a result of experience! There’s another important thing I wish to emphasise: in view of the unusual nature of this work, we took the opportunity to provide on the job training to a new colleague, Alessio Montagliani, who participated in all the phases of the work, except for the work performed at high levels, for which he does not yet have authorisation.
What services does the antenna provide?
This particular antenna was installed in the early Seventies to observe geostationary satellites over the Indian Ocean supplying countries in the area with telephone and television services. The antenna now supplies telecommunication services and user networks for oil companies and institutions via Intelsat satellites.