Goonhilly earth station to play a lead role in the next space race

World-class space science centre plans unveiled for Goonhilly

The iconic Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station on Cornwall’s Lizard peninsula might once again be set to play a “starring” role at the forefront of technology. The former BT Satellite Earth Station is now set to be upgraded and re-developed by a consortium, Goonhilly Earth Station Limited (GES), for use at the forefront of world-leading Radio Astronomy projects and Deep Space Network communications.

There are also plans to redevelop the Visitors Centre into an exciting new “Space” themed outreach centre. The plan has been almost three years in the making and was the brainchild of Ian Jones, Managing Director of the space sector company, Orbit Research Limited and now Chief Executive Officer of GES.

GES has worked closely with BT to develop the opportunity and a deal has been agreed, which includes GES taking a three-year lease on most Goonhilly antennas, including the four largest giant dishes, and an option to purchase the whole site for an undisclosed sum.

BT will continue to occupy parts of the site. It will retain possession of some of the operational buildings, retain use of some of the smaller satellite dishes and will continue to employ about 50 people there engaged in research, testing and other operations.

GES has identified and advanced exciting plans for the site to undertake a programme to upgrade the antennas to enable deep space communication with spacecraft missions and to develop an exciting Space themed outreach centre. In addition, the GES partnership with Oxford University has enabled the scope of the project to include the delivery of ground breaking radio astronomy work focussed on the origins of the Universe.

Ian Jones, Chief Executive of GES, said:

“Goonhilly is one of those amazing places that inspire people and has a pioneering heritage in international communications from the time when the first trans-Atlantic satellite TV broadcasts were made in the 1960s. Now we have plans to go one stage further and to use the antennas at Goonhilly to support space science missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond. We plan to link up with the e-MERLIN Network operated out of Jodrell Bank creating an enhanced radio telescope that will increase our understanding of the universe and act as a stepping stone to the development of the largest telescope ever to be built: The Square Kilometre Array.

“At a time of the biggest down-turn in the economy for a century, the Space Sector in the UK has continued to grow at over 9% per annum. Even so, it has been a long and difficult path for a small company to negotiate and to gain support for an ambitious project such as this. Today I feel very proud that our dedicated team has won the support of so many key partners, particularly Oxford University, QinetiQ, the UK Space Agency and the International Space Innovation Centre at Harwell, without whom this whole venture would not be possible. Space exploration has always been a joint effort – and as the World population grows we will need to look increasingly to space technology to help us manage, sustain and safeguard our life here on Earth. Investment in Space is an excellent investment in our future.

“As a child I can remember being inspired by the Apollo missions – my work as a satellite communication design engineer brought me here to Goonhilly to design, build and test mobile satellite communication systems. In the future I want Goonhilly to continue to provide inspiration to the next generation of scientists and engineers as we plan a challenging range of outreach and education initiatives for families, researchers and industry leaders. It is our vision that Goonhilly and the UK will continue to be recognised world leaders in Space science.

“Goonhilly can become a vital part of the rapidly-evolving story of the UK’s space programme and an important source for skilled jobs in Cornwall. Space science is undoubtedly one of the technology sectors offering great opportunity for expansion in the years ahead.”

One initial focus for the project will be to upgrade the site’s antennas to enable a sustainable and cost effective means of ensuring their longevity and their continued practical but alternative use for Deep Space Communications work and Radio Astronomy projects which will enable both ground breaking science and the development of teaching opportunities for Oxford and other University undergraduates and graduates from the site. In addition, an exciting upgrade to the old visitor centre is planned, to transform it into an outreach centre promoting Space and Space science for visitors, including local residents and schools.

Antenna upgrade funding and funding for the outreach centre upgrades will be subject to support from both public and private sectors.

Mr Jones said: “

We are confident that the necessary support will be achieved. There is already a great deal of interest in this project, both nationally and internationally. The space sector is very vibrant and growing rapidly – and Goonhilly could be a vital part of that exciting expansion.”

Professor Steve Rawlings, Oxford University Professor of Astrophysics and global academic lead for the 1.5 billion Euro Square Kilometre Array Radio Astronomy project, said:

“The opportunity to include Goonhilly in a number of leading Radio Astronomy projects and related Research and Development work is truly exciting. Once upgraded, the dishes at Goonhilly can quickly be connected to the e-MERLIN network operated out of Jodrell Bank and revolutionize its ability to study the Universe alongside the giant optical and infrared telescopes run by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) and the satellite observatories run by ESA and NASA. Goonhilly telescopes can also be connected to global radio astronomy networks that will eventually include the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

“ The SKA will attack truly fundamental questions: the origin and fate of galaxies, stars, planets and life; and the nature of the fundamental laws of the Universe, going beyond Einstein into the biggest unsolved problems like dark energy and quantum gravity. Oxford University is also thrilled by the possibilities of having its students and staff down in Cornwall where the new outreach Centre will attract many young new scientists. At Goonhilly, these young people will be rubbing shoulders with top flight engineers and physicists from around the world.”