Cornwall is to host Europe’s first commercial deep-space communications station following an £8.4m investment into Goonhilly Earth Station.
Under a new project announced by the Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), Goonhilly’s 32m diameter GHY-6 antenna will be upgraded to provide deep-space tracking of future missions to the Moon and Mars and satellite communication services.
“There will be more than 50 lunar and deep space missions planned over the next decade and it means our region can participate directly in global space programmes,” said Sandra Rothwell, chief executive of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly LEP.
Once upgraded, Goonhilly is expected to add to the capabilities of the European Space Agency (ESA)’s worldwide ground station network, which comprises seven core stations supporting over 20 earth, observatory, planetary and exploration spacecraft as well as European launchers.
The investment will see ESA working with Goonhilly to upgrade GHY-6 to meet the performance and technology requirements needed by ESA, NASA and private space exploration companies for deep-space communications, including high bit-rate data links.
Qualifying tests will require the antenna to track several ESA deep-space missions, including the Mars Express spacecraft which has been in orbit around the Red Planet since 2003.
“By the middle 2020s, ESA’s deepspace 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,” said Rolf Densing, ESA’s director of operations. “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.”
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.
With new spaceflight laws and grant funding announcements expected in the next few months, Cornwall is well prepared to make the most of this opportunity.
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 by 2030.