Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station

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Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station

Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station is a large telecommunications site located on Goonhilly Downs near Helston on the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall, UK. Owned by BT Group plc, it was at one time the largest satellite earth station in the world, with more than 25 communications dishes in use and over 60 in total. The site also links into undersea cable lines.


Its first dish, Antenna One (dubbed "Arthur"), was built in 1962 to link with Telstar. It was the first open parabolic design and is 25.9 metres in diameter and weighs 1,118 tonnes. Arthur received the first live transatlantic television broadcasts from the United States via the Telstar satellite on July 11, 1962. It is now a Grade II listed structure and is therefore protected.

The site has also played a key role in communications events such as the Muhammad Ali fights, the Olympic Games, the 1969 moon landings and 1985's Live Aid concert.


The site's largest dish, dubbed "Merlin", has a diameter of 32 metres. Other dishes include Guinevere, Tristan and Isolde after characters in Arthurian legend, much of which takes place in Cornwall.

The earth station is powered by the national grid. If power fails, all essential equipment will run off huge batteries for 20 seconds, during which four one-megawatt diesel generators will take over. The nearby wind generator farm is not part of the complex.


On 12 September 2006, BT announced it would shut down satellite operations at Goonhilly in 2008, and move them to Madley Communications Centre in Herefordshire, which will become BT's only earth station and the biggest in the world.

Visitor Centre

Until Easter 2010 a visitor centre was present on the site. Inside, the Connected Earth gallery told the history of satellite communications. Additionally there were many interactive exhibits, a cafe, a shop and one of Britain's fastest cyber-cafes (a one gigabit pipe and a theoretical maximum speed per iMac of 100 Mbit). There were also tours around the main BT site and into the heart of Arthur.

At its prime, the site attracted around 80,000 visitors a year but in March 2010 BT announced that the visitor centre would be “Closed for Easter and beyond until further notice.”


On 11th January 2011 it was announced that part of the site is to be sold to create a space science centre. This will involve upgrading some of the dishes to make them suitable for "deep space communication with spacecraft missions". A new company has been formed to manage the operations, Goonhilly Earth Station Ltd. The company will lease most of the antennas for at least three years with the option to buy the entire complex in the future.

There are also plans to upgrade the former visitor centre into "an outreach centre promoting space and space science for visitors, including local residents and schools".

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