Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station // The Lizard

By . Last updated
Goonhilly Earth Station
Goonhilly Earth Station

Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station is the largest satellite earth receiving station in the world with over 60 dishes in total

Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station is the world's largest satellite earth receiving station, located on Goonhilly Downs near Helston on the Lizard peninsula. There are over 60 communications dishes, 25 of which are in use, providing a significant proportion of the UK's satellite connectivity. The site also links into undersea cable lines.

The first communications dish was Antenna One, otherwise known as Arthur, and was built in 1962 to link with Telstar. It was the first open parabolic design and received the first live transatlantic television broadcasts from the United States. Many of the dishes are named after characters from Cornish legends. The largest dish, Merlin, has a 32 metre diameter. Other dishes are Guinevere, Tristan and Isolde.

Although the earth station is powered from the national grid, the site has large diesel generators to provide indefinite backup power in the event of a national grid outage. The satellite dishes at Goonhilly are directed at every continent, and almost all international news travels to and from Britain via the huge discs.

oonhilly simultaneously handles millions of international phone calls, emails, and TV broadcasts, as it is able to transmit to every corner of the globe through space or through undersea fibre optic cables,
A shuttle bus takes visitors through the security perimeter into the heart of the communications centre, where BT makes every effort to entertain as well as educate. It is possible to learn all about satellite technology in the film theatre, to operate an antenna dish yourself Operate a satellite dish for yourself, moving it to track different orbiting satellites in space, and to pick up television signals and internet messages from all over the world. There are technical guided tours inside Arthur, the oldest working antenna in the world, which enable visitors to look at the internal workings and to climb onto the apron.

One of Britain's fastest cyber cafes is here, with a one gigabit pipe and theoretical maximum speed of 100Mbit per iMac. Here one can surf the net on a high-speed touch screen internet zone and send an e-mail postcard from Goonhilly. There are special booths for beginners or full access booths for experts. It is even possible to send an e-mail message into outer space, which might one day be received by other life forms! The guided tour offers a unique voyage of discovery, visiting the command complex, and seeing the route taken by a live TV picture to individual homes.

The downs surrounding Goonhilly formed Cornwall's first nature reserve. BT works with English Nature to preserve the natural character of the part of the countryside for which the company is responsible. There is a guided tour around the perimeter of the satellite station, taking in ancient burial mounds and a 5,000 year old standing stone. This is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with some of the rarest plants in Britain, including the fragrant orchid and the hairy buttercup.

There is the licensed Big Dish Cafe, indoor and outdoor children's play areas, shops and plenty more for the visitor to see and do. Goonhilly is open for most of the year, apart from Christmas and early January to early February each year.