A planned upgrade to Goonhilly-6, the 32m diameter antenna based in Cornwall, will enable it to provide satellite communication services and deep-space tracking of future missions to the Moon and Mars.

The project will receive €9.5 million in funding from the Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), which operates the satellite, and the European Space Agency (ESA), and work will be completed in 24 months. The dish, which was first built in 1985, will now be able to communicate over distances exceeding two million km. It will be the fourth deep-space dish operated by the ESA, following similar developments in Australia, Argentina and Spain.

“Goonhilly will be able to complement ESA’s own stations, and provide deep-space tracking for the Agency’s missions as well as those of other space agencies or from private space start-ups aiming to exploit the Moon or mine asteroids,” said Klaus-Jürgen Schulz of ESA ground station engineering.

The satellite will be tested by tracking several ESA deep-space missions, including the Mars Express spacecraft, which has orbited Mars since 2003. The dish will also be used to support more recent missions, such as the ESA’s ExoMars project, which is expected to launch a rover on the surface of Mars to search for evidence of life on the planet.

“We’ll be able to command them, we’ll be able to monitor them, be able to get the pictures coming back, and if there are people going off to Mars or to the Moon, we’ll be able to provide that communication link,” said Ian Jones, chief executive of Goonhilly Station. “The more opportunities like this and contracts like this that we can win and we can show that we are a key player in the global space industry.”

The LEP has further plans to develop a commercial spaceport at Cornwall Airport Newquay, which would engage in small satellite launches and sub-orbital flight to receive a share of the £400bn per year value of the global market for space by 2030. The UK government has set a target of securing 10% of this economy by 2030.