Today, communications coverage north of Svalbard is a great challenge. The Norwegian Coast Guard is constantly operating further north in order to maintain presence and sovereignty in Norwegian northernmost territories, while at the same time ensuring readiness within search and rescue and oil spills.
– When we go beyond 81° North, we no longer have a stabile communications coverage. We have no internet, phone or television either for that matter. We are, as they say “in the dark”, says Commanding Officer on KV «Svalbard», Endre Barane.
In the beginning of May, a small test group from Norwegian Defence Materiel Agency (NDMA) and the Norwegian Armed Forces Cyber Defence performed an experiment that proved that this problem soon might be history. Satellite Engineer Vidar Madsen in NDMA performed a test on his hypothesis that broadband coverage could be achieved in the Arctic - by using inclined satellites.
– About a year ago I had coffee with a vendor on our frame work agreement list, and they said that they delivered communications with inclined satellites in the Antarctica. That is when the idea came to me that this should also be possible in the Arctic area, says Madsen.
An inclined satellite is a geostationary satellite that moves in a North-South direction in a sort of figure eight pattern, and has a theoretical coverage all the way to the North Pole.
Given a lot of thought and sketching, the idea matured and the experiment was approved and financed through the Norwegian Army Concept Development & Experimentation organization under the Cyber Defence.
It is when the satellite reaches its highest point, that the Norwegian Army can exploit the coverage. If you have two or three satellites available, coverage can be obtained 24/7 in areas that have no broadband coverage today, says Madsen.
A crucial part of Madsen’s team was Systems Officer Hans Olav Molden and Expert Officer in satellite communications in Cyber Defence, Erik Wangen Alsaker. Molden is employed at the Norwegian Army Satellite Station at Eggemoen, and joined the project in November 2015.
– Vidar needed support both in the development phase and during the actual test in the Arctic. Vidar has the idea and the final solution, and I provide the technical support, says Molden.
– It is exciting to be part of a project to find a solution to such an obvious need this far north, says Wangen Alsaker.
POLAR BEARS AND TRIPWIRE
Together with the Norwegian Coast Guard crew, the project team established a base on a large ice flake on 82° north.
– We performed a test assembly in the hangar on the way up north. When we arrived sufficiently far north and anchored up on the ice, we unloaded the equipment, tent, food and tripwire onto the ice, says Molden.
While the test team installed the antenna and started collecting signals from the inclined satellite, the crew from the vessel established the base, and polar bear guards provided security measures. On multiple occasions the test group had to evacuate due to curious white bears.
The test ran for a total of three days on two different locations, and the result was above all expectations.
– We experienced a stabile broadband coverage for approximately 12 hours per day. By using more inclined satellites, we can potentially supply the Armed Forces with broadband coverage 24/7, says Madsen, who has worked with satellite communications for 13 years.
The Coast Guard is Norway’s most important authority in the northern sea areas. KV «Svalbard»’s main task is claiming Norwegian sovereignty in the northern areas, but has many civil tasks even though it is a military vessel. Through the Arctic Council, Norway has taken on the responsibility of search and rescue operations in an area where the ice melting gives increased traffic by both trade and cruise ships.
– When you are far away from any civilization, broadband is vital to handle various situations. This breakthrough can easily lead to a great improvement for the Coast Guard, especially for KV «Svalbard» on missions in the Arctic. Both medical doctors on Haukeland Hospital in Bergen and the readiness team of the Norwegian Coastal Administration within acute pollution situations are totally dependent upon comprehensive information in order to provide the right assistance as quickly as possible, says Barane.
– The objective now is to provide a ready solution for the Norwegian Coast Guard, and then we will continue looking at other vessels and ships. With a focused effort, we can have a solution on KV «Svalbard» already by Christmas 2016, says Madsen.
In other words; this project can move from idea to operative solution onboard vessel in less than two years.