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The SGF was set up as part of the Royal Greenwich Observatory (RGO) in 1983 using a dome building that originally contained a solar observatory. It is now run by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) with additional funding from the Ministry of Defence.

It is located in the grounds of the Bader International Study Centre (BISC), Herstmonceux, East Sussex, which is also shared by The Observatory Science Centre.