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The European Space Agency (ESA) is today autonomously flying three interplanetary missions: Rosetta traveling to the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko and the two orbiters Mars Express and Venus Express. The capability of supporting these and future deep-space missions is the consequence of a farsighted decision taken in 1996 to expand the ESA network of 15-m tracking antennas into the deep-space domain. The ambitious plan to provide around-the-clock coverage to all ESA interplanetary missions is almost completed: two deep-space antennas, located in New Norcia (Australia) and Cebreros (Spain), have been in operation since 2002 and 2005, respectively, while a third antenna is planned for 2011. This paper presents the two existing antennas starting from the underlying system requirements originated from the Rosetta mission, which was the most demanding in terms of required performance. The selected architecture is then described, followed by a detailed discussion about the critical performances that play a major role in deep-space support and the associated design issues.