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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 September 2006, 17:06 GMT 18:06 UK
Goonhilly's calls to the world
By Andrew Segal
BBC News Cornwall

Goonhilly's Arthur weighs in at 1,118 tonnes and is 26m in diameter
The planned shutting down of satellite operations at the Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station in Cornwall would mark the close of facilities which helped pioneer the world of modern communications.

Since coming online in 1962, Goonhilly has been home to one of the most famous satellite dishes on earth, the Grade II listed Antenna 1, better known by its nickname "Arthur".

The site has grown to 160 acres and is currently home to 61 satellite dishes.

But Arthur still has the distinction of being the heaviest dish at the site, weighing in at 1,118 tonnes and 26m (85ft) in diameter.

Developing technology

Nearly 45 years on, Arthur is also still only a mere 6m (20ft) narrower than younger upstart Merlin (Antenna 6), the site's biggest dish built in 1985, which measures in at 32m (105ft) across, but a little lighter at 395 tonnes.

However, BT bosses are being recommended that satellite operations be centralised for business to remain competitive.

The satellite work of Goonhilly may now be transferred to Madley in Herefordshire and most of the Cornish dishes dismantled.

Because of its listed status, Arthur will stay on as a permanent memorial to Goonhilly's contribution to space-born communications even after its proposed cuts in 2008.

Many of those who have worked with the technology know the towering structures by identification numbers as opposed to their Arthurian legend nicknames, including Guinevere, Tristan and Isolde.

However, whether they know the dishes by name or by number, staff through the decades will be proud of their contributions to help develop satellite communications.

When Arthur came online with the USA's satellite station in Andover and Pleumeur Bodou in France to use the Telstar satellite, Goonhilly only had to deal with one television channel or 500 simultaneous telephone calls.

Alternative routes

Today the station handles computer data, fax transmissions, video conferencing, telex communications, TV signals and about 10 million telephone calls a week.

The site also attracts about 80,000 visitors a year.

The station has also been involved in many ground-breaking communications events, such as the Olympic Games, the Muhammad Ali fights, and 1985's Live Aid concert.

In recent years its work has also included providing alternative routes for data when US communications were damaged in the 9/11 terror attacks.

Goonhilly's sub-sea cable operations will continue, ensuring the site continues to be involved in global communications, but the site will remain most famous for its historic dishes.

The loss of any of the world's most famous and historic communications devices will be marked by scientists and technology fans around the world.

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