Commercial Deep-Space Communications at Goonhilly

Goonhilly Dish Gears

The Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) is investing £8.4 million in Goonhilly Earth Station, by means of a Growth Deal with the Local Growth Fund of the government of the United Kingdom (The Growth Deal programme is intended to expand the economy and infrastructure of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly) and the European Space Agency. Eighteen additional staff will be employed by Goonhilly.

The famous tracking station is undergoing an upgrade to become the first commercial deep-space communications and tracking facility, capable of providing communications and tracking services for missions to the Moon and Mars, giving Britain, for the first time, the ability to communicate directly with spacecraft in deep space. Goonhilly will work alongside the global network of seven ground stations belonging to the European Space Agency.

ESA is cooperating with Goonhilly to perform an upgrade on one of the largest antennae on the site, the GHY-6, 32 metres in diameter, constructed in 1985. This upgrade will enable the dish to meet the high bit-rate datalinks and other requirements of ESA, NASA, and private companies engaged in space exploration.

The work will take roughly two years, and tests of the antenna will include tracking a number of ESA spacecraft, such as the Mars Express, in orbit about Mars since 2003.

Quotes on the Upgrade:

Chief Executive Officer of Goonhilly, Ian Jones: “We already have a great deal of interest in using the upgraded antenna from our international customer base. This includes space agencies, such as ESA, as well as some of the new private space exploration companies. The team here at Goonhilly, along with colleagues at the LEP, ESA and the UK Space Agency, have been working incredibly hard to achieve this fantastic outcome. We now look forward to getting on with the upgrade work which will bring a new expansion of the company.”

Jake Berry, Local Growth Minister: “It is very encouraging to see a Local Enterprise Partnership using Government’s Growth Deal funding to support a rapidly growing sector through public and private sector collaboration. This contract will create skilled new jobs in the local area while assuring Cornwall’s place in history for its contribution to space exploration.”

Sam Gyimah, Science Minister: “We’re working hard to ensure the UK thrives in the commercial space age as part of the Government’s Industrial Strategy, so it’s fantastic to see the world’s first commercial deep space communications network coming to Cornwall. The UK Space Agency has played a vital role in supporting this partnership and will continue to work alongside industry, local leaders and international partners to grow the UK’s share of the global space market. We already play a significant role in satellite manufacturing, with one in four of the world’s telecommunications satellites built in the UK, and want to establish the UK as a world-leading destination for space launch.”

Sandra Rothwell, Chief Executive of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly LEP: “This is a fantastic boost to Cornwall’s space ambitions and significantly enhances what the UK can offer the fast-growing global space industry – which is a key ambition of the Government’s Industrial Strategy. There will be more than 50 lunar and deep space missions planned over the next decade and it means our region can participate directly in global space programmes. This is a major strategic investment by the LEP, using Growth Deal funding to build on our existing world-class assets to create an economy fit for the 21st century.”

David Parker, ESA’s Director of Human and Robotic Exploration: “ESA’s missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond help answer profound questions about the origins of life and humanity’s place in the Universe. They demand cutting-edge skills and technology while also inspiring the next generation with curiosity and wonder. Upgrading the Goonhilly Earth Station for the new era of space exploration, which involves many countries and organisations around the world, should position it as key player in this exciting future.”

Rolf Densing, ESA’s Director of Operations: “By the middle 2020s, ESA’s deep-space communication needs for current missions, like Gaia and ExoMars, and future missions like BepiColombo, Solar Orbiter and Juice, are projected to exceed the Agency’s current capacity by up to 50 percent. Upgrading Goonhilly and building up a commercial capability to support future exploration missions is good for ESA, good for European science and industry and excellent value for European taxpayers.”

It is hoped that this project will increase interest in the Cornish space sector, already piqued by expanding facilities at both Goonhilly and Cornwall Airport Newquay. Both organisations are part of the Aerohub Enterprise Zone, which offers 100% relief on the business rate.

The Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership also intends to develop Cornwall Airport Newquay into a commercial spaceport, from which sub-orbital flights and the launch of small satellites could take place. It is estimated that British spaceports could take a significant share, over the next decade, of a £10bn worldwide demand for space launch.

Summarised by Griffith Ingram


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