Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station
Signalling the giants.
Seemingly a little out of place, but it's here anyway. This is by far the world's largest satellite dish station, with over 60 dishes on one site. And we are not talking little dishes; these things are huge. The site itself holds several other world records, but I will go through those as I come to them. It is located near Lizard Point to keep it away from the electrical interference of the cities in the East, to be as far south as possible; close to satellites that all congregate near the equator, and because of the relative altitude of the area without having obstacles like mountains in the way.
It was responsible for many important things, such as being instrumental in providing live transmissions of the first moon landings, for viewing in the UK. Currently it provides a large part of Britain's international phone and Internet service, as well as being used for live remote news feeds and coverage of sporting events, GPS, and for use by rescue and military communication.
- Guinevere. She is 29.6 metres in diameter, built in 1972, and communicates with a satellite over the Indian ocean.
- Arthur. This dish alone holds many records. It is by far the heaviest dish on the site, at 1100 tons. It is not the largest, being just (!) 25.9 metres in diameter, but it is the oldest, having been constructed in 1962. It played an important part in the world's first trans-Atlantic transmission, communicating American television signals through the Telstar satellite. Because of this, it is also the only satellite dish to have a (grade 2) listed building status, so it should not be dismantled.
- Arthur was designed to move to track the satellite, which did not remain over a static position of the Earth. This means that despite its incredible weight, it can move with impressive speed, using this 3.5 ton bike chain, and disk brake. However, since most satellites have been geosynchronous since 1965, it remains almost static.
- The drive is mounted on this spoked wheel. Most newer dishes just move the dish, not the entire frame. Since changing to newer satellites, Arthur has had a new surface with a 300 ton concrete heatsink. Because of its over-engineering, it copes with this easily.
- Maintaining a radio tower.
- Merlin is the largest dish on the site, at 32 metres diameter (have you started to see a pattern in the names yet?), but weighing just 390 tons. He is also the most powerful in terms of bandwidth, but still can only handle a few tens of thousands of simultaneous phone calls. These dishes are more capable than cable, but less capable than fibre-optics. They are used because of their flexibility, as they are not tied to static cabled locations.
- Built in 1985, Merlin was used to transmit the 1985 Live Aid concert - the programme with the highest ever viewing figure; 2 billion.
- Merlin is made of alloy with white paint, like most dishes. The microwave signal reflects off the metal behind the paint, and is not affected by mildew or mould. Earlier dishes were made using steel, but the rusting caused the surface to be ruined. One major dish was already removed because of this. The surface is made up of petals or panels, with small gaps left to allow for heat expansion.
- A collection of smaller dishes used by maritime services, such as search and rescue. The older dishes were originally designed to use upto 8 kilowatts, but most current dishes (including the older dishes since conversion) now use about 300 watts. Arthur actually has a cut-out switch in case he aims too low, so that he does not fry the surrounding countryside.
- Arthur. Because of the impressive bandwidth capability of the site, they boast the fastest Internet cafe, but since their kiosks run Internet Explorer 6 on Windows 98, their browser and operating system software is still stuck many, many years in the past. If the lack of software security is not worrying enough, the kiosks also do not protect user privacy, and I found it frighteningly easy to browse through the emails of other people who had used the kiosks in the past - you have been warned.