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Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station
Goonhilly Downs, Lizard Peninsula, Cornwall
associated engineer
Not known
date  1962
era  Modern  |  category  Telecommmunications  |  reference  SW727213
ICE reference number  HEW 1456
Goonhilly was at one time the world's largest satellite tracking earth station, sending and receiving millions of communications daily — telephone calls, television pictures, data, faxes, video conferences, telexes, email and Internet connections — and it was the first earth station to receive 'live' TV images from America.
The satellite station is situated on the flat heathland of Goonhilly Downs, near Helston. A radar station had been established at a nearby site in 1940.
Construction at Goonhilly began in 1962 with Antenna One — the communications dish named Arthur — which was built as a link to the low-orbit satellite called Telstar. Arthur is the oldest working satellite antenna in the world and was the first open parabolic dish design. There are more than 60 dishes in total at the station, the largest of which is Merlin at 32m diameter. Many of them are named after legendary characters — Guinevere, Tristan and Isolde, etc.
By 1969, seven years after the launch of Telstar , global communications operated 24 hours a day. In that year, pictures of the Apollo 11 moon landing were relayed worldwide to an estimated audience of 600 million people.
Goonhilly can transmit information through space and along undersea fibre optic cables. The station is powered by the National Grid but also has large backup diesel generators. The site is owned by British Telecommunications (BT) and was one of the first Connected Earth partners.
Today, Goonhilly handles limited traffic as there are many other earth stations in the UK and much of our information travels along fibre optics rather than through space. The site is now known as Future World @ Goonhilly, detailing 200 years of international communications history and looking at what the future might hold. Available are guided tours inside Arthur, Segway personal transporters and what is perhaps one of the world’s fastest-connected Internet cafés with a 1Gbit pipe and a theoretical maximum speed of 100Mbit per iMac.
In 1976, the Nature Conservancy Council (now English Nature) purchased the surrounding downland and it became Cornwall’s first National Nature Reserve. The area is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The rare flora and fauna protected include fragrant orchids, hairy buttercups and adders.
There are several Bronze Age burial mounds within the station perimeter, forming part of a large barrow cemetery on Goonhilly Downs. Outside the fence is Dry Tree Menhir, a 15-tonne standing stone some 5,000 years old, hewn from gabbro and transported more than 3km overland from Crousa Downs.
Arthur is one of ten important communications structures nominated for listing by English Heritage. It set the pattern for thousands of satellite dishes worldwide.
Research: ECPK
"Cornwall's Archaeological Heritage" by Nicholas Johnson and Peter Rose
Cornwall Archaeological Unit, Twelveheads Press, Truro, 1990
"Marconi at The Lizard – The story of communication systems at Housel Bay"
by Courtney Rowe, Trevithick Society, 2000
reference sources   CEH South

Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station