Of course, Mission Control in Houston and Kennedy Space Center in Florida are the places most closely associated with NASA’s Artemis 1 lunar adventure, but also a lesser-known location on a remote moorland in Britain’s far southwest is playing a crucial role.
When the mission takes off, hopefully later this week, scientists from Goonhilly Earth Station on Cornwall’s Lizard Peninsula will help NASA track the rocket using a giant deep space antenna dubbed Merlin, and then command six small research satellites. who are on their shoulders a ride on Artemis.
It will be a great moment for Goonhilly, who was on the verge of final closure in 2006 after four decades of service, and a huge boost for Cornwall’s burgeoning space industry.
“We are very excited,” said 23-year-old Beth Sheppard, a graduate of Oxford University, cheering for the job title of mission operations engineer for the deep space network, which is one of those at Goonhilly Control Headquarters. . “We can’t wait to see it go up and it will be a good time to get signals from it.”
Sheppard comes from the seaside town of Hayle, Cornwall, and can’t believe she’s making a living as a space engineer where she grew up. “I have a great sense of pride. Cornwall is a unique place and that helps put us on the map.
Goonhilly was born as a global and space communication center in the 1960s. One of its giant antennas, Arthur, received the first transatlantic television signal, a speech by United States President John F Kennedy via the Telstar communications satellite.
In 1969, Arthur broadcast Neil Armstrong’s footsteps on the moon to a global audience, and Goonhilly went on to broadcast events including Muhammad Ali’s fights and 1985 Live Aid concerts, as well as handling long-distance phone calls, banking transactions and problems. of dispatch calls.
Goonhilly was chosen for its unique spot, far enough away from little electromagnetic interference and enjoying clean lines of sight to the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. It also helped that the Lizard’s solid serpentine bedrock was strong enough to support the giant steel and concrete antennas.
At its peak, hundreds of people worked in Goonhilly and supported a cricket pitch, tennis courts, football pitch, house band and manicured gardens. But in the mid-2000s, amidst changing technologies and markets, its owner, BT, took the site out of service with the loss of its high-paying jobs, a hammer blow in one of the poorest areas of the country. northern Europe.
Ian Jones, now the station’s CEO, and forward-thinking colleagues stepped in to save the site, identifying that a private deep space communications service provider may be needed in the future.
“People thought it was a crazy idea,” he said. “But the world has caught up and Goonhilly is working with space programs around the world. In recent years he has built around 40 new antennas and has 45 people working full time, half of them local.
Goonhilly’s role in the Artemis mission is the culmination of a lot of hard work. “Goonhilly has been a very visible sight on the horizon for years and the locals love it, we really feel it,” Jones said. It is certain that more jobs will be created in Goonhilly in the coming years. “Young people will have the opportunity to work in technology at their fingertips, which is great.”
And Artemis isn’t the only space mission with interest in Cornwall this fall. In October the first satellite launch from the UK ground will take place across the peninsula from Newquay airport. “Cornwall used to be known for its mining industry, but now we are becoming famous for our space credentials,” Jones said.
Despite the hi-tech nature of the site, Goonhilly has a homely feel. They serve tea, toast, soups and desserts in the kitchen; a herd of alpacas graze near Merlin; there are still many styles from the 60s and 70s on the site: the Formica lingers in the midst of the newest technology.
Kevin Wilkes, 57, of Penryn, near Falmouth, started in Goonhilly as an apprentice when he left school at the age of 16 and left to become a teacher when it looked like the job was about to close. Back in 2016, he is now in charge of operations and maintenance.
“It’s one of those places that people look at fondly,” he said. “Everyone knew someone who worked here. It is an iconic site for Cornwall. It was depressing when we saw the site we loved falling into disrepair. Coming back was great, the investment was great for the area. It’s sensational to be part of this again ”.