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Space Communications

Page history last edited by Alan Hartley-Smith 2 months, 4 weeks ago




Space Communications Division was formed on 13th September 1965 as part of the new Telecommunications Group to capitalise on the emerging satellite communication marketplace.  The background to this formation, and the five years following, has been documented here by John Brown who was a key player during this time. 


Over time the operations moved through Marconi Space and Defence Systems (MSDS), Marconi Space Systems (MSS), Matra Marconi Space (MMS), BAe Marconi Space; EADS U.K, Astrium U.K. Airbus U.K. with no further mention of Marconi.


Precis of the sequence of events

Based on research by John Brown

When Sales Manager (Space) in 1971 I related my assessment to the management the unpalatable truth that there would be a delay, before the next round of Earth Stations would be out for tender. We had had almost continuous success, and in the following year (as well as Goonhilly 3), Hong Kong 2, Kenya, and Cambridge were completed.  I had left the Company and as it turned out the absence of any Earth Station business was even longer than I had predicted. Records reveal that it was finally broken by the Post Office Telecommunications decision in 1976 to build a second Earth Station complex at Madley, in Herefordshire, to share Goonhilly's traffic. Marconi Chelmsford was awarded the contract, going to Mitsubishi for the two 32m dish antennas.  About this time there was a change in attitude, there being an acceptance that regional and domestic requirements existed.  An approach was made by the Company to the Department of Trade & Industry for sponsorship for a 20m dish antenna, the first application to be at Goonhilly (to be known as No.4) to operate in 'K' band and to be handed over in 1978. In the meantime, Cable & Wireless placed an order for Bahrain 2, to be identical with the first Marconi installation. In 1980, Post Office Telecommunications was privatised and became BT, and two years later its monopoly was broken by the setting up of Mercury by Cable & Wireless;  this set off a rapid expansion of Earth Station business.  Mercury required a twin-headed installation in Oxfordshire using 32m antennas (Mitsubishi) with Marconi as main contractor, also providing the communications equipment.  Orders were now being obtained from Nepal, Masirah, Ascension Island, the Falklands, and two further antennas for Hong Kong (a joint-venture between Marconi Chelmsford and Mitsubishi).  In the meantime, Marconi Chelmsford had got the message about the domestic market, and developed a series of small dishes (3m & 10m) for installation for BT at Docklands and Woolwich, and also for Mercury at their Whitehall Centre in Oxfordshire. This intense activity lasted throughout the 1980's, and until the early 1990's when Marconi Communications Systems as a whole was run down.


New installations for 21st century circa June 2019

We have been informed by a colleague who originally worked in the Marconi Research Laboratories and is now with BAE Systems Applied Intelligence, who took over the Baddow establishment, that he is currently the lead engineer on a project being carried out by BAE Systems to refurbish an antenna at Goonhilly which will be used to support future lunar missions, 50 years after the Apollo 11 landing. Details of the work are this article <https://www.theengineer.co.uk/goonhilly-earth-station-bae-systems/> and in this article in the latest edition of Astronomy Now. There is also a write-up on the Goonhilly website here  and a brochure covering the 2020 capability is here (large file).


BAE Systems has developed a highly precise space communications and tracking system designed to support spacecraft operating both near the Earth and in deep space. The technology receives and converts faint radio signals from spacecraft into data that mission controllers use to monitor and control the spacecraft. The highly flexible system is able to handle differing ESA and NASA requirements and protocols, which makes it an ideal choice to support Goonhilly in future space missions.” Ian Jones, Goonhilly CEO, said:

“We have a great deal of interest in using Goonhilly’s upgraded antenna from our international customer base, including space agencies and some of the new private space exploration companies. This system will ensure that we can support missions for a number of space agencies.” This represents the first time TTCP has been purchased by a private company and is also now operational in the ESA Deep Space Network.


This technology, say BAE, will allow GES to track and communicate with a wide range of spacecraft including future manned and robotic missions to the Moon and Mars. The partnership will involve close working on the current deep space programme with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the development of a global network in the next four years.


The TTCP provides uplink and downlink services to support the spacecraft. The uplink transmits commands that control the spacecraft and the downlink receives data including critical spacecraft health information, images, video and other scientific and engineering information.

Key features of the TTCP equipment include:

  • A fully digital and flexible Software Defined Radio (SDR) able to support data rates from 1 bit per second to 300 megabits per second from multiple spacecraft simultaneously, with 50 times the processing power of current technology.

  • Tracking functions able to determine the spacecraft distance to around 10 cm at ranges of billions of km.

  • Doppler measurement functions able to determine the spacecraft’s velocity away from or towards the ground station to an accuracy of around 0.01 mm/s for speed in excess of 50 km/s.

  • Flexible, high bandwidth digital receiver that enables networking with other ground stations to increase the performance of signal reception. The unprocessed received data can also be sent to other stations for further complex analysis.

  • Proven in service at ESA Deep Space Ground stations and currently used to support ESA missions such as Gaia, Lisa Pathfinder and Exomars, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) missions such as Dawn.


It is pleasing that, 50 years after the original Ascension station played an important role in the Apollo landings, Chelmsford-based companies are involved in a new venture which should do the same in the coming decade.


 This Deep Space Project involves modifying Antenna No.6 (the 32m, named 'Merlin') and No.3 (the 30m, named Guinevere), the latter being the all-Marconi system handed over in 1972 (this was at the time of the reorganisation and all the team were redundant when they returned to Marrable House, after having achieved the required handover date.)  Antenna No.6, the largest dish on the site, was supplied by Mitsubishi and handed over in 1985.  Arthur, the first to be built at Goonhilly for TELSTAR in 1962 is Grade II listed,  and so too is Guinevere on account of its elegant tower and antenna design, likened to a windmill, so congratulations are due to Eric Gilbert and his team. No.2 Antenna named Uther (by Marconi - to the Husband design) was dismantled a few years ago.


Updates 2022

BAE Digital Intelligence Systems

There was a recent presentation by one of their engineers to Chelmsford Civic Society






Beyond the Horizon in 1958 click here

Mounting the aerials in 1958 click here

The capabilities of Space Division in 1969 click here

Marconi Space Systems (1984) click here

Marconi Space Systems - Engineering Facilities (1985) click here

Marconi Space Communications (1986) click here



Descriptions of large contract installations at Ascension Island, Goonhilly and Cambridge are available here, including a film of the Apollo build available in three segments 1.  2.  3.


There are mentions of a number of publications but no copies located - offers welcomed:

SPADEF (for Marconi Space and Defence Systems), c.1979-c.1984

Space and Radio News (for Marconi Secure Radio Systems and Marconi Space Systems), 1984

Marconi Space News (for Marconi Space Systems), 1986, 1988

GEC-Marconi S3I Update, 1996


An introduction to Space Communications (1968) is given here.


An introduction to Marconi Space Communications (1968) is given here and in 1969 given here.


References to space-related systems can be found in these publication indices  12.


We are acquiring a collection of space-related pics which are collected together here






Model No.


Description  Comments  Approx. date  Details
  90ft diameter Aerial for Civil Applications    1968 here
  97ft diameter Kingpost Antenna for civil applications    1969 here
  42ft diameter Radio Telescope Antennas    1969 here
  42ft diameter Aerial for Civil Applications   < 1968 here
  40ft diameter Air-transportable Aerial for Military Applications    < 1968 here
  Small Space Aerials    1968 here
  Aerial Feeds for Satellite Communications    < 1968 here
  Servo Control and Drive equipment    < 1968 here
  Single-horn Mode Conversion Scan Feed    < 1969 here
  Feeds for smaller Stations    < 1969 here
P2000 Series  Transmitter for Satellite Communication systems    < 1968 here
  15kW Klystron Transmitters    < 1968 here
  Modulators and Demodulators for Satellite Communications    < 1968 here
  I.F. equipment for Satellite Communications    < 1968 here
  Tracking Receivers    < 1968 here
  Station Control Consoles    < 1968 here
P4500 & P4900 Series  Digital Data Processing equipment    < 1968 here
  Receiving equipment for Satellite Communications    < 1969 here
MX214  132-channel Multiplex equipment    1969 here
MX221  Order-wire subsystem    1969 here
  16-Digit Optical Shaft Encoder    < 1969 here




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