Goonhilly: Cornish Satellite Antennas Bringing us Closer to Space

A space communications centre in the far south west of the UK in Cornwall

Goonhillly Office WorkerCornwall Chamber of Commerce

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Part of the uniqueness and magic of what we are doing is translating between different worlds. We help satellite operators monitor and command their spacecraft from our control room.

Goonhilly LakeCornwall Chamber of Commerce

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My brother is professor of radio astronomy at Oxford University and over the years we’ve had many conversations about the similarities and differences between our two different worlds. We’ve converted one of our largest antennas at Goonhilly to be a joint radio telescope and deep space antenna and it’s just started to come into use now receiving signals from Mars and the distant universe.    

Interior of the data centerCornwall Chamber of Commerce

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Family run super computers

We process the signals using super computers based on graphic processor units and this enables us to do AI and machine learning using techniques derived from the maths of music and waves. We use Fourier analysis and signal processing to process the signals from space and sort them out into their core elements. 

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We’ve built a supercomputing data centre to allow us to do our own processing of data from space, but also to allow other researchers to have access to the incredible computing power that we’ve built here.    

SwitchCornwall Chamber of Commerce

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A dream job come true

I’m a child of the 60’s, so I grew up with the Apollo moon landings and all of the excitement that space had to offer. I spent all my career basically designing and building ground station equipment but never in a million years imagined owning Goonhilly or being the CEO here.

Large SatelliteCornwall Chamber of Commerce

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Connecting Cornwall to the world

Goonhilly, in Cornwall, is in a great location for supporting all sorts of different missions. From a longitude point-of-view we can see from a single satellite hop all of the Americas and all the way to Australia… so 90% of the world’s population. But we’re also in a great position to match the global deep space networks. And then from a latitude point-of-view we’re at that beautiful sweet spot where we’re far enough north to see multiple passes from polar orbiting satellites, but we’re also far enough south to capture all of the more equatorial internet satellites that are now coming along.    

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Goonhilly has incredibly fast internet connectivity. In Cornwall, down on the far south west peninsula, where you wouldn’t normally imagine there to be great connectivity, actually many of the world’s subsea cables land from the Atlantic Ocean into the UK. So we bring together this amazing connectivity of subsea cables, terrestrial connectivity and communications with space.    

A modelCornwall Chamber of Commerce

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The Goonhilly mission

Music and photography have always been a huge part of our family interest. The techniques of waves and interpretation of signals and image processing all lend themselves to an understanding of communications signals and how to translate the different jargon of technology. Part of the uniqueness and magic of what we’re doing is being able to do that translation between these different worlds and it helps us to push the boundaries in terms of where Goonhilly is going.

Outside SatellitesCornwall Chamber of Commerce

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The silent statues of Cornwall

These big satellite dishes sit there just like statues. They don’t look like they’re doing anything. But, of course, they’re communicating with geostationary satellites – and those satellites are orbiting the earth at the same speed that the earth rotates so they just appear to hang in the sky. But increasingly we’re now starting to communicate with low-orbiting satellites and deep space missions, so you’ll see some of the dishes starting to move and track objects across the sky.

Live Aid (1985-07)LIFE Photo Collection

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Broadcasting LiveAid

Part of Goonhilly’s unique history was its involvement in Live Aid. Of course, this was the first of the big public fund-raising events staged between musicians at Wembley Stadium in London and the John J Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia. But it was also broadcast around the world to 40% of the world’s population at the time – 1.8 billion people. 

Goonhllly Office SpaceCornwall Chamber of Commerce

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The skills needed to study the universe

 A big facility like Goonhilly requires people with different skill sets and getting the balance is really quite interesting. We started off with, I guess, electronic engineers and technicians to build and operate and design the antennas, but as we move more towards the processing of data we’re finding that physics and maths skills are at the core. Then, of course we need to understand the world and so we start to look at geographers and other humanities and scientists. For big projects we need project managers and programme managers – and all the typical skill stets around running any normal business.

Model PlanCornwall Chamber of Commerce

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Being a part of a global Cornish community

Being part of the Cornish community is very special for us. It’s a very resourceful community and it’s very proud of what we do here at Goonhilly. It’s interesting that being part of a global business we get to meet people around the world and so often we come across people from Cornwall who are now running or are involved in key technologies such as marine tech, minim and space communications.

The Goonhilly Earth Station siteCornwall Chamber of Commerce

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When people think of Goonhilly they think of the big satellite dishes on the landscape here, but of course any business is really about the people. We’re so lucky to have a phenomenal staff and they really make us successful.    

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