Monday, April 30, 2007

Cornwall (part 3)

After our late night theatre escapade the previous night, it was time to go 'techie'. So we drove only 15 minutes from where we were staying. Goonhilly is dubbed as the largest satellite earth station on earth. It doesn't mean the largest satellite antenna but the largest collection of satellite antennas in the world. Me and the husband were particularly interested since we both majored in Electronics and Communications way back in university. If we followed what we were educated for we might have been employed in one of these sites.

What do these 'dishes' do? They transmit and receive live TV transmissions, millions of phone calls, video calls, email, data, faxes, and even weather and navigation data. There are also undersea cable lines that connects the communications station to various parts of the world.

The satelllite dish that greeted us (see above) at the entrance was certainly impressive, big and commanding, towering very high above us little midget humans. This my friends is the satellite dish called Arthur (I love the names they gave them). It's the oldest and one of the biggest in the lot.

Let's take a closer look at Arthur. It was built in 1962 to track the Telstar - a fast and low orbiting satellite. This means that Arthur can do a full swing of its face in just 3 minutes. Mind you, these are working antennas so tour can sometimes be cancelled at the last minute.

On the right-hand side is Merlin and in the middle of the 3 smaller dishes on the left is Geraint currently tasked to track an Inmarsat satellite over the Atlantic.

Here is a closer look at Merlin the largest on site with a dish diameter of 32 meters. It was used in 1985 to transmit the Live Aid concert worldwide.

It also has a Blue Peter badge for being featured in that children's TV program.

Because of advances in technology, huge satellite dishes such as Arthur and Merlin need not be built. Smaller satellite dishes such as above can adequately provide the same service on a smaller physical scale. If you notice, a number of windmills are in the background. That windfarm is not actually part of Goonhilly. It just adds to the peculiar sight of the place.

This is Guinevere. The only east facing satellite dish on site. It tracks the Intelsat satellite hovering over the Indian ocean.

There are a big number of other satellite dishes that I wasn't able to photograph - such as Uther, Lancelot, Isolde, Tristan, etc.

After the guided tour in a tourist bus we were escorted back to the visitor centre.

It has a lot of interactive displays for both adults and school children. There is of course the requisite gift shop and restaurant. I was also excited to find lots of iMacs in a corner with free internet access. The downside is I can't access gmail. :(

Some interactive displays that will keep the kids busy pushing buttons, pulling levers, etc.

But for me, the most eye-popping feature of this visitor centre is the 3-minute free phone call anywhere in the world! You guessed right, I phoned all my relatives and friends that I know that are still awake at that time.

It was a very stimulating experience for all of us most especially for me. I count ourselves lucky for this might be the last time we will see all these satellites as it is in the Lizard Peninsula, Cornwall. Because BT (the owner) has decided that by 2008 all of the satellites, except for Arthur, will be dismantled and moved to Hampshire. Shame they will remove these technological wonders in this beautiful location. :(

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