Help Save Goonhilly Earth Station Complex

Photo courtesy of and copyright Ian Jones, 2011

Goonhilly 3 Antenna and the Orion Constellation

Everybody’s heard of Goonhilly, haven’t they? No? I’m amazed, so here’s the story of a piece of UK National and technological heritage and why it desperately needs your support right now.

There’s an urgent petition to the UK Government which needs to be considered and, if agreed with, then signed by all people who do not want to see yet another piece of national heritage callously discarded by short-term-interest politicians and NMP (not my problem) bureaucrats.
If I sound cynical, just look at what the last Government did with the Foreign Office Library. They scrapped it! Apparently, you can now find original, ancient treaties etc of the British Empire for sale on EBay!!!

The petition site is at http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/goonhilly

Goonhilly Downs – a windswept, out-of-the-way location on the Lizard peninsular by the Atlantic Ocean in south west Cornwall, England became a dramatic focal point at the dawn of the satellite communications era. Why, you might ask? Well, the first geostationary communications satellites were nothing like the complex animals of today. Their power and antenna coverage on the earth’s surface was limited, so to communicate between the USA and the UK, for example, it was necessary to have the USA station as far east as possible, and the UK station as far west as possible.

Sure, the UK station could have been placed a bit further west in the Scilly Isles, but that would have introduced other issues – getting the international land lines from London under the Ocean to a far less accessible place. So, Goonhilly Downs was selected and the site was acquired by the UK GPO, which later became British Telecom; then renamed as BT.

Goonhilly received the first live transatlantic television broadcasts from the United States via the Telstar satellite on July 11, 1962 (nearly 50 years ago) and for many decades Goonhilly was the UK’s international gateway for all telephone, television and data to and from the rest of the world.

I won’t go into all the detailed “firsts” of Goonhilly as many are well documented elsewhere, such as Wikipedia. I do confess, though, to having a very personal interest in the fate of Goonhilly. Since the 1970s I’ve had deep involvement with the site and the unique group of engineers, scientists, technicians, wiremen, managers, cleaners and canteen staff who, many with their incisive, sceptical Cornish perspective on life made the place so special.

On an even more personal note I was fortunate enough to have lived on the Cornish coast for some years. The hefty winch at the top of the boat ramp was one of the original winches used in the construction of the first 26 metre diameter Goonhilly 1 antenna.

Goonhilly will feature a lot in my future blog posts, but not now. First there’s a battle to be won!

Times and technologies change, and since the late 1990s fibre optic cable has predominated in the trunk transmission of international traffic, making Goonhilly less and less critical for BT’s operations. As a consequence the site was mothballed and scheduled for demolition. But not for long. It has now re-emerged as a dynamic location putting the UK in its rightful place as a centre of excellence as an International Space Communication Gateway for commercial satellite communications, Space Science (Deep Space communications) and Radio Astronomy. A co-located Technology Park, training centre and visitor centre will add to the mix and appeal of the site.

The concept, developed and led by Ian Jones of GES Ltd (www.goonhilly.org) is backed by the Universities of Oxford, Leeds and Herts as well as QinetiQ and other august institutions. However, these plans cannot go ahead without a modest amount of UK Government Regional Growth Fund funding, the application for which is currently being considered. If approved, this transformational project is expected to generate some 750 jobs, so there’s a lot riding on it.

It should be stressed that existing and future satcoms activities/contracts at Goonhilly are not in any way dependant upon the new Government funding that is being sought. It’s just “business as usual” for these activities.

So if you care, or even have a passing interest then PLEASE visit the petition site at http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/goonhilly. Your voice can make a real difference!

(GH3 antenna photo courtesy of and copyright Ian Jones, 2011)

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