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Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station...back to the future?

Who would have thought that the gulag-greyness of Goonhilly Downs may be the location for space scientists to boldly go where space scientists have never been before to penetrate the dark heart of the solar system.

The winter-dead moors appear lifeless; last summer's heather and grasses have faded into the shortbread, ginger nut and bourbon shades of the contents of my old grannie's biscuit jar and occasional trees, oblique and hunched from prevailing westerlies, are pencilled against the sullen sky, delineated as a Durer etching. But the moors are far from lifeless; Goonhilly Earth Station, once the largest satellite earth station in the world is to be regenerated as a world class centre for communicating with deep space missions.

Dry Tree Menhir Antenna Goonhilly Downs Antenna 2  Goonhilly Downs

Goonhilly transmitted the first transatlantic television programme in 1962, playing a key role in broadcasting world wide events such as the first moon landing and the Live Aid concert. The station ceased to be operational a few years ago and the antennae were earmarked for demolition, however, it has hit the headlines in recent weeks. First, WikiLeaks named Cornwall in a leaked US list of 'vital' national security facilities, which may have implied the Earth Station and the undersea communications cables in the county and the really exciting news are the plans for Goonhilly's future.

According to the local press, a new consortium, Goonhilly Earth Station Limited (GES) plans to upgrade Goonhilly's antennae to transmit signals to outer space. The project, has the backing of the UK Space Agency, the Harwell based International Space Innovation Centre, site owners BT and a consortium of universities, it is the brainchild of Ian Jones, chief executive of GES, who said, "It is a great pleasure to be in a position where we are going to bring Goonhilly back to life and upgrade the satellite dishes for deep space missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond", and Prof. Steve Rawlings, Oxford University professor of astrophysics said, "We really are at the start of something amazing. Goonhilly is incredibly well placed to be an important part of the story and the project would examine the biggest unsolved problems like dark energy and quantum gravity".

There is an ancient standing stone, Dry Tree Menhir, outside the wire perimeter of the Earth Station which marks the boundaries of five parishes on the Lizard peninsula. Its existence is an affirmation of an ancient civllisation while it's purpose remains enigmatic, belonging to a culture potent with mystery and conjecture. It keeps it's secrets, but there are beliefs that standing stones are in remote open places, positioned as markers for precise alignments on the power grid of ley lines and here we are in 2011 with the brightest minds developing a radio telescope that could improve the UK's network of seven radio telescopes connecting at the Jodrell Bank Observatory. It doesn't matter in what time we live, there is a compulsion to find a conjunction between earth and the cosmos and reach towards the stars. Since the beginning of time human intelligence and ingenuity have lead us to where we are today and on Goonhilly Downs we are at a fulcrum of being in reach of icons of communication of both the ancient and modern world.

Space... and Goonhilly, is indeed the final frontier. From the confines of our own planet, we will continue to explore strange new worlds and discover mysteries that extend into the vastness beyond. Personally, living in Cornwall, all I want to do is star gaze into the night sky... that's celestial enough for me!

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