In 2012, NEP Connect relocated its main teleport and facilities from central London to MediaCityUK in Salford. As part of this move, the company commissioned the construction of the largest broadcast teleport ever built in the north of the UK. The new teleport helped to confirm the company’s position as the leading provider of satellite facilities in Europe. This state of the art facility includes nine satellite dishes; two 3.8m, two 4.8m, two 6.3m, two 8.1m and one 9m plus a handful of smaller dishes.
Teleport sites are driven by the need to have a clear unobstructed view of the satellites which, from the UK, are all in the south at an elevation between 10 and 30 degrees. For this reason they tend to be either in open fields away from urban developments or placed on roofs. The area around Salford Quays was surveyed and the old dry docks in the Trafford area on the other side of the canal from MediaCityUK were chosen. Opened in 1894 by the Manchester Ship Canal Pontoons and Dry Dock Co they were originally used to repair large ocean-going liners, tugs and dredgers, playing a key role in the rise of the region’s shipping industry and employing up to 800 men in their heyday. The site closed in 2002.
A number of unique challenges were uncovered during the site survey. Samples taken from boreholes showed that the site was ‘made ground’, meaning that the wall sides of the docks were built up and the middle filled with ash and sand and then the whole thing topped off with concrete. Fortunately Victorian engineers made things to last and the site was deemed structurally sound and fit for purpose. The next task was then to clear the site and dig out the locations where the pads were to be sited. As test boreholes could only give a limited picture of what was under the dock, the first dig at the canal end of the dock hit a lot more solid concrete than was anticipated, and so plans had to be revised. Each dish was designed to sit on a concrete block of a size defined by the dish manufacturers. The size of this block is in line with the size of the dish, with the smallest block being 4m x 4m and the largest 7m x 7m.
However, the manufacturer’s assumption was that these blocks would be mounted on a solid surface and, as it turned out, the dock wasn’t solid enough. Therefore steel piles were driven into the dock to provide stability for each dish, with between four and nine piles to each dish acting as underground supporting legs for the platforms. The piles were driven in until they hit solid ground, which in this case was up to 13.5m down.
The concrete bases were strengthened with a cage of reinforced steel, with each cage made individually on site before being positioned. Ducting pipes for power, control and signal cables were put into position then the mounting bolts for the dishes themselves. These had to be very accurate with each bolt required to be within +/- 1mm or the dish wouldn’t fit. After double checking and triple checking everything was in the right place the concrete was poured. More measurements were taken during and after the pouring to make sure nothing had moved. At the same time ducting was being run throughout the site to allow everything to be connected plus bases for the cabins, generator and security cameras. Given the long, thin shape of the site the dishes had to sit in a line along the length of the dock, with the separation and height of each dish designed to maximise their viewing angles, which are all at least 45°East to 45°West, allowing them to see most of the satellites in use in the UK. A roadway and turning circle was left behind the dishes to allow access for a crane to lift each dish into position. It was then just a case of deciding the order. The smaller dishes, 3.8m, 4.8m and 6.3m all share a transmit system therefore these are bunched together at the ‘land’ end of the dock. The larger dishes need more separation and therefore they were spaced out along the remainder of the site. In practice there was very little room for manoeuvre and so the dish positions were all where they had to be. Then it was just a case of adding the cabins for electronics and power plus the standby generator.
“The teleport allowed SIS to offer existing and new customers enhanced services.”
The dishes themselves, which were manufactured in Texas, arrived at Liverpool docks in their shipping containers which were transferred to site by road. As soon as they arrived the installers started to assemble the dishes onto the pads, starting with the smallest and working up to the larger dishes. Whilst the civil works had been taking place the installers had been assembling the cabins which were brought to site ready wired and put into position. Then it was just a case of connecting everything up and testing the systems.
The new teleport went live when SIS moved into their new Blue Tower headquarters in July 2012. It proved a significant asset to SIS’ already impressive inventory of facilities and further extended its wide-ranging service offerings in the satellite and broadcast markets. David Meynell, managing director says, “The teleport allowed SIS to offer existing and new customers enhanced services as well as providing MediaCityUK with direct access to the global satellite market.”
Technical spec: Dishes (numbered from the canal end of the site)
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