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This 32-metre antenna is undergoing an important transformation. Soon, it will be ready to communicate with spacecraft across deep space.
If you’re planning on flying a robotic or even human mission in the near future to the Moon, an asteroid or even Mars, one indispensable requirement you’ll face is the need for at least one deep-space tracking dish to communicate with your craft.
The Goonhilly 6 antenna is part of the Goonhilly ground station in Cornwall, England, home to over 60 dishes able to track satellites close to home, in highly elliptical orbits as well as planetary and celestial objects further afield.
Built in 1985, the antenna will be upgraded to provide fast data links for missions far beyond Earth, typically exceeding 2 million km.
ESA currently has three deep-space dishes in Australia, Spain and Argentina, providing full sky coverage for tracking and communicating with missions at Mars such as ExoMars and Mars Express as well as BepiColombo - currently on its way to Mercury. Future ESA missions such as Solar Orbiter, Euclid and Cheops will soon be added to this list.
However, by the middle of the next decade, ESA’s deep-space communication needs for its current and upcoming missions is expected to exceed present capacity by around half.
This is why ESA teams are excited by the upgrade of Goonhilly 6, which will enable the UK station to provide Europe’s first commercial deep-space tracking services, compliment ESA’s own ESTRACK stations and provide deep-space tracking for both space agencies and private business.