If you’re keen to see a piece of the Moon that’s over 3.8 billion years old, find out what astronauts eat in orbit or check out the latest images from space, then a visit to one of Canberra’s hidden gems, the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (CDSCC) is highly recommended. It looks like something from a sci-fi movie, but it’s a wonderful place to spend a day exploring the vital role Australia has played for over 50 years in communicating with spacecraft and exploring our solar system.
Just a short drive from the outskirts of Canberra, you’ll find the impressive Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex that is managed by Australia’s CSIRO on behalf of NASA. It’s part of an international network of antennas that support interplanetary spacecraft missions by sending and receiving data from spacecraft exploring the solar system and beyond. It opened in 1965 and is the only NASA tracking station in Australia that is still in operation.
The CDSCC has seven satellite dishes, two command centres and an excellent interactive information centre, nestled in a picturesque rural valley. It currently has three active antennas which are supporting over 45 NASA missions. There are also several other antennas that are no longer operational – like Deep Space Station 46, which is famous as the dish which received and relayed the first TV images of Neil Armstrong setting foot on the Moon in 1969.
At the fabulous interactive centre, visitors can check out Mars rovers, take a look at some space hardware, see what’s for dinner at the International Space Station and discover how the CDSCC is going to help the first people land on Mars.
Why you’ll love it
- The Canberra Space Centre is on the grounds of the CDSCC, and it is packed with insightful exhibits and engaging displays. It’s the place to see an actual piece of the moon, take a look at all kinds of models and memorabilia, head into the theatres to learn about space exploration and find out about the challenges of space travel
- The Tidbinbilla Valley is a beautiful setting for the centre, and the drive there takes you past farmland where wildlife like kangaroos, wombats and emus can often be seen along the road
- There are playgrounds and picnic areas if you’d like to extend your visit, as well as the Moon Rock Café which serves breakfast and lunch with a huge satellite dish for company as well as views of the gorgeous countryside
- The CDSCC sits along a road known as Tourist Drive 5, which is a loop of just over 70 km which winds its way through the Tidbinbilla Valley. Stay on the space theme and pop up to Mt Stromlo Observatory, or head to Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve to get up close with some native animals.
- The entire experience at the CDSCC (with the exception of Moon Rock Café) is free!
You’ll find the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex at 421 Discovery Drive, Tidbinbilla, just off Paddys River Road, which is part of Tourist Drive 5.
The centre is easily accessible by road, and the bonus is that visitors get to drive through spectacular scenery and beautiful mountains ranges.
If you’re coming from the north of Canberra, make your way to the Cotter Road, which will take you past the Cotter picnic area, past around 16km of former plantation forests and farms before reaching the turnoff on the left to Discovery Drive.
From Canberra’s south, head to Point Hut Crossing via Jim Pike Avenue, then drive towards Tidbinbilla. Once you’ve passed the turnoff to Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, you’ll see Discovery Drive on your right.
When to go
The CDSCC is open for an out-of-this-world experience from 9:00am to 5:00 pm every day except Christmas Day.
- Duration: around 45 minutes’ drive from the city centre
- Distance from Canberra: under an hour from most parts of Canberra
- Recommended for: anyone with an interest in astronomy, planets, stars, space exploration, memorabilia, technology and learning more about history
- More information: Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex
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