The U.K.'s Goonhilly Earth Station is to benefit from an £8.4 million ($11.66 million) investment that will see it become the world's first commercial deep-space communications station.
Once upgrades are completed, the facility in Cornwall, southwest England, will be able to offer deep-space tracking and communication services on a commercial basis, authorities said Thursday.
For the first time, the U.K. will have the capability to directly communicate with deep-space missions, the government said. The station will also be able to track and control both robotic and human missions to Mars and the Moon.
"We already play a significant role in satellite manufacturing, with one in four of the world's telecommunications satellites built in the U.K., and want to establish the U.K. as a world-leading destination for space launch," Science Minister Sam Gyimah said in a statement Thursday.
The deal has been financed using the Local Enterprise Partnership's Growth Deal with the U.K. government, through the European Space Agency (ESA). Two million euros ($2.46 million) will come from the U.K. Space Agency's investment in the ESA.
The ESA will work with the Goonhilly site to upgrade a 32-meter diameter antenna so that it meets the "high-end performance and technology requirements" needed by the ESA, NASA and private space exploration businesses.
"We already have a great deal of interest in using the upgraded antenna from our international customer base," Ian Jones, Goonhilly's CEO, said. "This includes space agencies, such as ESA, as well as some of the new private space exploration companies."
The work will take around two years to complete. During this time, the ESA will oversee "qualifying tests" that will involve the tracking some of its deep space missions, such as the Mars Express spacecraft. The Mars Express has been in orbit around Mars since 2003.