£8.4m 'Growth Deal' brings ESA deep-space project to Goonhilly, Cornwall
An £8.4 million (€9.5 million) investment in Goonhilly Earth Station in Cornwall, UK, will help create the world’s first commercial deep-space communications station, capable of tracking future missions to the Moon and Mars.
Announced today by the Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), the project will see Goonhilly upgraded to enable it to provide deep-space tracking and satellite communication services on a commercial basis.
It will be the first time the UK has had the capability to communicate directly with deep-space missions.
In the future, Goonhilly will complement the capability of the European Space Agency (ESA)’s worldwide ground station network, currently comprising seven core stations supporting more than 20 earth, observatory, planetary and exploration spacecraft, as well as European launchers.
The Goonhilly contract is being funded through the LEP’s Growth Deal with the UK Government, via ESA. The investment will see ESA working with Goonhilly to upgrade one of its largest antennas, the 32m-diameter GHY-6 antenna - built in 1985 and used almost immediately to carry the Live Aid concert around the world - to meet the high-end performance and technology requirements of ESA, Nasa and private space exploration companies for deep-space communications, including high-bit-rate data links.
The investment will provide a huge boost to Cornwall’s space ambitions. Once the upgrade work is complete, Goonhilly will have the ability to track and control forthcoming robotic and human missions to the Moon and Mars, making a significant technical and economic contribution to European efforts in global space exploration.
Upgrading the GHY-6 antenna will take approximately two years, during which time qualifying tests - supervised by ESA - will be carried out, including tracking several of the Agency’s ongoing deep-space missions such as the Mars Express spacecraft, which has been in orbit around the Red Planet since 2003.
Sam Gyimah, the UK government's newly appointed science minister, said: “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.”
Goonhilly CEO Ian Jones said: “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.”
Rolf Densing, ESA's director of operations, said: “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 per cent.
“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.”
As well as taking on 18 new staff, the team at Goonhilly are expecting a significant upsurge in interest in the space sector in Cornwall. A number of companies are now looking at the growing capability both at Goonhilly and Cornwall Airport Newquay, which are both part of the Aerohub Enterprise Zone, offering 100 per cent business rate relief.
The LEP’s contribution comes from the Government’s Local Growth Fund, which is investing over £70m through the ‘Growth Deal’ programme to improve infrastructure and grow the economy of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.
Separately, the LEP has plans to develop a commercial spaceport at Cornwall Airport Newquay. Small satellite launch and sub-orbital flight from UK spaceports could capture a share of a £10bn global launch opportunity over the next 10 years.
According to the UK Space Agency, the global market for space is expected to increase from £155bn per annum to £400bn per annum by 2030. The UK Government has set a target of securing 10 per cent of this global space economy - i.e. £40bn per annum - by 2030.