back to article Suffering satellites! Goonhilly's ARTHUR REBORN for SPAAAACE

Big data? Pah. Arthur is big hardware. He weighs in at 1,118 tonnes, has a diameter of 25.9 metres and is 52 years old. From his home, a high plateau on Cornwall’s remote Lizard peninsula – as far south as you can go on the island of Great Britain without falling off – he has played his part in Space Age history, appropriate …

  1. SkippyBing

    RAF Culrose?!

    You won't be able to turn left past that as it doesn't exist, RNAS Culdrose* does however.

    *Royal Naval Air Station

  2. James 51

    last best hope.

    If you could take them to have a talk with a babylon station that would be something.

  3. TRT Silver badge

    That's the thing about those Cornish dishes...

    lovely hand crimped edges.

  4. Anonymous Custard

    Portcurno Telegraph Museum

    Was down there on holiday a few months back, and quite disappointed that this place was no longer open for a visit.

    However must also give a mention to the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum also down near Lands End, which is a great visit for people interested in this kind of communications tech. It's a little more broad in topic (focussing more on the undersea cables mentioned in the article, some of which used to end at the museum building in its former life), but it gives a very good overview and is well worth a half-day visit.

    Indeed I'm quite surprised it isn't mentioned in the article, given the overall topic and the other more off-topic attractions mentioned at the end.

    1. Timmay

      Re: Portcurno Telegraph Museum

      Yes, indeed - I was also disappointed Goonhilly was no longer open, though I wish I knew about the Segway tours then! And yes, big recommendation for Porthcurno too, I was the only one there when I went (out of season), and had a personal guided tour everywhere, even to the beach to go cable spotting!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Portcurno Telegraph Museum

        Another +1 for Porthcurno. Don't miss the Minack theatre when you're down at Porthcurno, either - chances of bagging a ticket for a performance are remote in high season, but it's the world's most dramatic theatre location (to the best of my knowledge).

        And in terms of other vaguely tech destinations, Newquay Airport (RAF St Mawgan) is home to the Classic Air Force museum with great aircraft like the Meteor, Vampire, Canberra, many others including a Nimrod. It's a bit of a drive to the National Maritime Musesum at Falmouth, but it fits the vaguely tech bill (as in tech from stone age to 1970) and is strongly recommended.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Portcurno Telegraph Museum

      "quite disappointed that this place was no longer open for a visit."

      Diito here. Was down there just after the end of season and was very dissappointed. Drove around a bit and could see a bit from the road, but that was all.

      We'll go back when it'sopen though. I can wait a year or two :-)

    3. melt

      Re: Portcurno Telegraph Museum

      Don't worry - it was utterly awful. I went, perhaps just before it closed.

      It was a desolate '90s set of corporate exhibitions and kid-oriented dumbed-down hands-off exhibits - including a closed-off slow bus ride around the perimeter track. Very disappointing after Porthcurno!

      It completely mirrored BT's schitzophrenic split. To pay to go in the Goonhilly exhibition we paid someone at one register. This ticket did not cover the tour of Arthur's insides. To get that, we had to shuffle one step to the right, where the same person then had to use a different register to give us a different ticket for a different tour run by a different person.

      The Goonhilly tour was all glitz and no content. I suspected it was run by BT Retail. The tour around Arthur was done by an earnest chap in a hi-viz and hat, and was technical and interesting.

  5. nematoad

    I don't know.

    Having read of all the activities and business being done at Goonhilly I wonder at the intelligence and acumen of BT, the former owners.

    Looks like the place will be a nice little earner for GES. Good for them for using their brains and seeing the potential.

    Given that BT are also currently thinking about buying back O2 it does make you wonder what the hell the top brass there have been up to all these years. Just as well they are a massive company otherwise they would have folded years ago given the unimaginative management they seem to have.

    1. Bunbury

      Re: I don't know.

      It's a 50+ year old, end of life, telecomms dish that has been long overtaken. First by fixed dishes that didn't need all that heavy gearing that was needed to follow Telstar, then by submarine fibres. It's no use for telecomms any more an BT aren't involved in space telescopes so why would they want to keep the site?

      1. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: I don't know.

        So what you're saying is, BT have made an entirely sensible business decision to sell Goonhilly?

        Sounds a bit competent for them, perhaps they only did it by accident.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Getting there

    For those based a bit further north it's also worth noting that in the summer months Easyjet flys to Newquay from Liverpool.

    1. Sweep

      Re: Getting there

      Could be easier than you think, with "Nasa having commissioned SpaceX to build a transporter."

  7. Gavin Chester

    Went years ago, I didn't know it had closed. The Eden projects probably got less bare earth patches than it did when I went too...

    Until you get close you simply can't understand the scale of the dishes, you somehow always think they are nearer than they really as your sense of scale assumes they can't be that big so they must be further way.

    1. A Known Coward


      The other way around surely?

      I think it was the early 90s when I visited. I seem to recall the visitors centre being moderately interesting, but the dishes were the main attraction. I was lucky though, I grew up close to Jodrell Bank and saw those dishes regularly and they dwarf 'Arthur'. The Lovell telescope is three times larger.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I did a BTEC in Electrical Engineering at Mid Cornwall college in sunny St Austell back in 1988. for a field trip we had a private behind the scenes tour around Goonhilly (it was still used then) it was really good and Arthur is bleedy big

    1. TchmilFan

      Big Up to MCCFE posse!

  9. rwbthatisme

    Vistor Center

    I took my Mrs to goonhilly on our honeymoon many years ago and was sad to hear it had closed as the it was amazingly informative. The great thing about the dishes was because they where fast steerable that and so able to track satellites as telstar (pre Geo-stationary orbit) had only a limited window to relay signals. I also hope they re-open the 'Big Dish' cafe, just because of the pun.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Vistor Center

      cooooor you old romantic!

      1. monkeyfish

        Re: Vistor Center

        He was probably compensating for something, you know what they say about the size of man's dish...

    2. Peter Simpson 1

      Re: Vistor Center

      Out hiking in the semi-backwoods of Maine, I climbed to the top of a modest hill and there, in a bowl before me, stood the radome that used to cover the Telstar ground station in Andover ME. It is still in use, for other satellites.

      I went on an excursion from summer camp in the late 60s to see it, and remember clearly entering the radome to look at the receiving horn antenna.

  10. MJI Silver badge

    half and an hour? And bring back the barbeques.

    Do you mean half an hour to Falmouth?

    Also at Roskilly's demand they bring back the summer barbeques, much nicer than the stuff they serve now.

    Thin pizzas or a nicely barbequed steak?

    RNAS Culdrose cafe isn't bad, a litttle shop there as well. A model aircraft factory nearby.

    Some great pubs with local drinks.

    There is a good hot drink place at Mullion Meadows, also a chocolate factory.

    Not giving away any more places, don't want them all overrun!

    But I can think of some excellent beaches near by! At least 5.

    1. Mr_Pitiful

      Re: half and an hour? And bring back the barbeques.

      Wow do Google really have office on the Lizard?

      I'll checkit out tomorrow on the way to my grannys

    2. Return To Sender

      Re: half and an hour? And bring back the barbeques.

      And if you've made the effort to get to Goonhilly, Ann's Pasties is only about 8 miles down the road in Lizard village of course.

      1. MJI Silver badge

        Re: half and an hour? And bring back the barbeques.

        Actually last time I had Anne's pastys they were not that nice, but then I don't think she makes them anymore herself.

        Rowes were nice, the St Kevern bakery ones were average. Ended up getting Rowes mainly as they are everywhere including the supermarkets.

        And yes I did bring back a crate of Rattler.

      2. SkippyBing

        Re: half and an hour? And bring back the barbeques.

        'Ann's Pasties is only about 8 miles down the road in Lizard village of course.'

        And only 200 yards from my parent's house!

        1. MJI Silver badge

          Re: half and an hour? And bring back the barbeques.

          My father is from the Lizard!

    3. Martin Budden Silver badge

      Re: half and an hour? And bring back the barbeques.

      But I can think of some excellent beaches near by! At least 5.

      The best beach of all is of course Portemmet (But I'm not giving the directions because I don't want the crowds to find it).

      1. Russell Hancock

        Love porthemmet

        But be careful, don't want to spoil it for the locals! (sure it is porth though, not port)

        1. MJI Silver badge

          Re: Love porthemmet

          Ant Cove?

      2. MJI Silver badge

        Re: Porthemmet

        Very clever one that and you can tell two or three of the sources of it. Heavily based on Kynance.

        There is one beach I know of, difficult to get to, but it is on a flooded valley and seems almost tropical.

        One of my favourite parking places is at the cliff top car park between Poldhu and Gunwalloe, another is the car park at Pendennis Head.

        That whole area is my favourite place.

  11. TeeCee Gold badge

    " including the part that houses its (BTs) subsea cable station."

    I don't suppose the lads down there could "accidently" cut through it occasionally?

    You never know, the bastards might start to understand what a PITA that is.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: " including the part that houses its (BTs) subsea cable station."

      Only if GCHQ ask them to...

  12. monkeyfish


    I hope they won't completely ditch the history of the site in favour of all the new space stuff, even if it just a few displays it would be of interest.

    Also, nice rack. Beige boxes can only hold proper hardware.

    1. Bloakey1

      Re: History


      Agreed, nice to see loads of stuff that make your fingers tingle and want to get tactile.

      "Also, nice rack. Beige boxes can only hold proper hardware."

      Nice rack and beige box? They should rename the dish Kylie.

  13. Christian Berger

    The German Equivalent was/is Raisting

    In the 1980s a sci-fi series used to have a shot similar to this one in the opening titles:

    I think their original dish, hidden beyond a radom, recently got a newer radom and now houses a museum.

  14. John Hosen

    One of my favourite places

    As a kid growing up in Falmouth I always wanted to work there. It always looked an exciting place when we went past whilst out for a drive or sneaking into the then semi derelict Predannack airfield to go blackberry picking.

    I remember writing a letter asking if I could visit (pre BT and visitor centre days) and received a polite "sorry but no" but also a really cool (for a seven or eight year old) poster and booklet all about telecoms.

    When my cousin got a job as an engineer at Goonhilly (he still works there) I was quite jealous, although that jealousy soon disappeared when he arranged to get me in for a visit. We went all over the site, in the control room and even went up into the focal point of Aerial 2 as it was known then, none of the Arthurian nonsense.

    Such a shame Aerial 2 is no more.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    That takes me back a bit! On the night of the first TV transmission I was a young lad in a hotel just up the road from there while my dad was at Goonhilly watching the action, having been involved in building the maser amplifier that did the business behind the dish. I remember going up the dish to see the kit just before it became operational. I wonder if they still have those amplifiers? They'd make nice museum pieces with the huge ruby crystals inside.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ...and camels.

    Yes, really:

  17. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects

    Far far away a long time ago

    I can understand why they had telecommunications based at the end of the world but why they had to park the weather station out in the cold was beyond me. A 6 hour trip though the door marked Exit just to get hold of data that might easily have been housed online was exasperating until the USA came to my rescue.

    Something to do with secret services was it?

    I can't believe it was just down to housing flower people.

  18. imanidiot Silver badge

    another great geeks guide article.

    Keep them coming please!

  19. paulc
    Thumb Up

    Moon Landings...

    Goonhilly 1 also had a major part to play in relaying live TV of the moon landings to UK and Europe

  20. Michael Souris

    Nature Reserve Next Door

    You can park up in the nature reserve right next door and walk down one side of the Goonhilly site - there are remains of the WW2 radar station with informational boards too.

  21. BernardL

    Great Article.


  22. Sheep!

    Interestingly if you'd arrived 30 years earlier they would probably still have been listening to Steve Wright but on Radio 1.

  23. novice

    :Plans for the Future

    Being one of those locals who were invited several times to discuss the future of Goonhilly by Ian Jones, I for one firmly believe that not only is the site thriving re radio astronomical research but also with satellite comms and movement. Ian and his colleagues are completely dedicated to their intent to provide STEM outreach for schools and colleges as well as encouraging new science related businesses and an amazing visitor experience. Those of us who have been privileged to be even a small part of their plans for the future are wholly behind their endeavours. And I will be one of the first in line once they are open to the public. Way to go guys!

  24. paulf

    Work Experience

    Reading this article reminded me of the time I did a weeks work experience on the Goonhilly site during my A-levels in the mid-1990s.

    The site is massive, and the dishes equally so. Thinking about it, I can't help feeling somewhat privileged to have had that experience from reading some of the comments above. There is a picture somewhere of me on top of Goonhilly 3 in a white BT hard hat from the "Piper" logo days. That's the one with the design based on a windmill - the lift shaft on the back was added because the tapered throat at the top was too narrow to get equipment through! That was during my site tour when I also got to look in detail at the kit in the main control room.

    I also recall going for a wander on site one lunchtime and having a mooch around Goonhilly 6 (This was opened/named by Blue Peter in the 1980s).

    It was an impressive site, staffed by some pretty smart people. All the best to GES in their efforts to bring it back into use - a pint for you!

  25. Paul A Jackson

    Goonhilly 1 was the first satellite dish!

    Goonhilly 1 was actually the first satellite dish but not one of the first three satellite antennas, nor were Andover or Pleumeur-Bodou.

    The Soviet Union’s tracking, telemetry and monitoring stations described here: comprised many more than three dedicated antennas and any ham radio outfit that received Sputnik’s transmissions, which were on amateur radio accessible frequencies, could lay prior claim in one sense over Andover, Goonhilly or Pleumeur-Bodou.

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