Billionaire invests in British company planning deep space communications network
WASHINGTON — A British billionaire has invested in a company operating a ground station that has aspirations to support commercial missions beyond Earth orbit.
Goonhilly Earth Station Ltd. announced May 14 that Peter Hargreaves, the co-founder of British financial firm Hargreaves Lansdown, has invested £24 million ($32 million) in the company, which operates a ground station in Cornwall, England.
Goonhilly didn’t disclose the size of the stake Hargreaves, a billionaire whose net worth was estimated by Forbes earlier this year at $3.9 billion, acquired in the company. In a statement, he said that he saw the company as a high-growth opportunity in an emerging market.
“The team at Goonhilly have been delivering on an insightful vision which has already propelled them to the key position in this expanding market,” he said. “I wanted to add my backing to ensure they can realize their bold plans to be the recognized leader in the field.”
Goonhilly operates more than 20 antennas ranging in size from a few meters to 32 meters in diameter. The company acquired the facility from British Telecom in 2014 after leasing some antennas there for three years and has since invested more than $5 million in updating the aging facility.
“Our story began 10 years ago with the idea to rescue Goonhilly and to create a new space company that meets all the challenges for NewSpace,” Ian Jones, chief executive of Goonhilly, said last month at the 34th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs.
The facility’s business today is primarily supporting satellite operators, such as uplink and tracking, telemetry and command operations. However, the company also has an interest in offering services for commercial missions beyond Earth orbit, including development of a private network for deep space communications.
“Deep space was always in our business plan, right from the beginning,” Jones said last month. “It’s taken a long time for us, as a small company, to get to this stage.”
At Space Symposium, Goonhilly announced an agreement with the European Space Agency and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) to study commercial partnerships for the development of lunar communications and navigation services. Goonhilly won a contract from ESA earlier this year to upgrade the 32-meter dish there to support communications for agency’s deep space missions.
Goonhilly and SSTL are also working on their own lunar mission concept, called Pathfinder, which would involve an SSTL-built satellite carrying up to 60 kilograms of secondary payloads that would be released in lunar orbits. The Pathfinder would serve as a communications relay back to Earth. The companies plan to launch that mission in 2022 or 2023.
Goonhilly and SSTL signed a separate agreement at Space Symposium with Astrobotic, a U.S. company developing commercial lunar landers, to provide communications services for those landers. That could be important for future lander missions that desire to land on the lunar farside or other locations where direct communications links to the Earth would be difficult or impossible.
“This partnership with Goonhilly and SSTL is paving the way to make the moon accessible to the world,” John Thornton, chief executive of Astrobotic, said of his company’s landers during a signing ceremony for the agreement April 16 at the conference. “It’s making it possible for payloads and rovers to land on the far side of the moon and have missions to any destination on the surface, while maintaining good, strong contact back home.”
Jones, in the investment announcement, noted that the company was working to diversify its revenue sources beyond satellite or even deep space communications services. The ground station has been designated an “Enterprise Zone” by the government as part of an effort to develop a cluster of technology companies there. The site is also near Newquay airport, one of several locations in the United Kingdom seeking to become a commercial spaceport.
“Peter’s involvement is perfect timing as it allows us to realize our plans to grow parallel, but highly connected, revenue streams,” Jones said in the statement about Hargreaves’ investment.