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Goonhilly Finds a Partner in the UK’s Extreme North

By , | February 5, 2019
Photo: Goonhilly Earth Station.

Photo: Goonhilly Earth Station

U.K.-based communications services hub Goonhilly Earth Station entered into an agreement with a fellow startup launch facility, Shetland Space Center (SSC), to jointly promote and deliver launch, monitoring, and tracking capabilities, the companies announced Feb. 5.

Both startup companies will collaborate on vertical and horizontal launch services for U.K. space customers from facilities at the extreme geographical ends of the nation. Goonhilly has facilities located in Cornwall, far to the south, while SSC is planning to build its new facility on the Shetland island of Unst, which is north of Scotland. As SSC develops its teleport and other space-related ground infrastructure, Goonhilly will invest in and install a new tracking antenna on Unst. The two firms said they would also co-develop data centers in both Unst and Cornwall.

“Shetland is the obvious choice for supporting vertical launch – there’s infrastructure, data connectivity, and transport links already in place, in addition to the vitally important clear air space towards polar and sun-synchronous orbits,” Goonhilly Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Ian Jones said in a statement. “I think it’s obvious that Shetland is recognized as the best location by key launch companies. The team at SSC have the skills and determination to make this a viable business opportunity.”

SSC is a project that was conceived in 2017 by Frank and Debbie Strang. It’s small team is currently working towards securing planning permission for the satellite launch facility, working closely with the Shetland Islands Council to ensure economic benefits for the local community. “As soon as we met the team from Goonhilly, we all recognized that there are potentially huge benefits from collaborating,” said SSC CEO Frank Strang. “We have a shared drive and determination to increase the footprint of the UK space industry, from launches on U.K. soil to a huge range of ground station activities.”

Goonhilly has other similar partnerships in place, including one with Spaceport Cornwall to support horizontal launch services. The company is also planning ground stations outside of the U.K. In an interview with Via Satellite conducted late last year, Jones discussed the company’s plans to build ground stations in Australia and California.

“We have the funding in place. We’ve got the blueprint, the designs of what we want to do,” said Jones, who at the time had just received $31.7 million (24 million British pounds) in financing from private investor Peter Hargreaves. “We got the office set up and we’re starting to looking around at different sites … Australia is coming along so quickly — the new space agency is really interested in the investment in Australia and working with the growing space business there. I think we’re coming at exactly the right time … The plan is to do a phased approach to get a site sorted out for Australia, as we’re doing the upgrade for GHY-6, and then as we start to build that out in Australia we’ll be looking for a site in America.”