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.
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
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
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!
this page to a friend