Eye on the sky - from the top of the world

Norway’s arctic lands and extensive coastline, rich with fisheries and offshore oil resources, provide the nation enormous benefits – and considerable challenges. The distance from the country’s southern capital, Oslo, to its northerly reaches is nearly 2,000 km, or the same distance as from Oslo to Rome. But those challenges have also helped propel Norway into a leading nation in space technology. From unlocking the intricacy of arctic sea ice to monitoring shipping for oil spills and other problems, Norwegian industries and researchers have perfected the use of satellite surveillance and related technologies for very down-to-Earth uses – whether it’s policing distant waters or protecting natural resources.

It’s not just the Norwegian people who benefit – with clients as diverse as the European Maritime Safety Agency to the researchers with the International Polar Year, Norwegian space know-how benefits people worldwide. “We’re a small country with a large geographical area and few people, which makes satellites extremely useful, bordering on critical, for monitoring areas,” says Bo Andersen, director general of the Norwegian Space Centre, the national space organization. “I believe in 8 to 10 years time, Norway more than any other country will have the greatest use for space technology – because we have these very large challenges and advantages that can only be solved by using satellites.”
 
Investment in space is sound economic policy on Earth. In 2006, for every Norwegian krone that industry received in contracts from the European Space Agency or the Norwegian Space Centre, an additional 4.5 kroner in related goods and services was added to the Norwegian economy. Norwegian industry and research centres are involved in everything from the International Space Station to the Ariane 5 rocket, as well as in developing research and technology that allows the study of distant planets and Earth itself.
 
Liv Arnesen, a Norwegian, and Ann Bancroft, an American, relied on satellite pictures of shifting polar ice, provided by KSAT, in their attempted expedition to the North Pole in March, 2007 © Bancroft Arnesen Explore
Protecting the Arctic
The Vikings named Norway, meaning “the way north,” as a reflection of the country’s arctic and sub-arctic nature. About a third of the country lies above the Arctic Circle, while the arctic archipelago of Svalbard is home to the most northerly settlements on the planet. The importance of the arctic to Norway’s economy and culture are underscored in “The Norwegian Government’s High North Strategy,” a governmental white paper released in late 2006. “The High North has been placed firmly on the map of Europe. Decision makers in other countries have become aware that the High North has significance that extends far beyond Norway’s borders,” writes Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg in the document’s introduction. “Take, for example, the living marine resources that are provided to European consumers from a unique and vulnerable natural environment. Or global climate change, which is becoming so clearly obvious in the Arctic.”
 
“This unique environment provides an unparalleled opportunity,” says Rolf Skatteboe, the CEO of Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT). Because Norway’s land area is so northerly, any polar orbiting satellite can be contacted by KSAT’s facilities in Svalbard, called SvalSat. “We can talk to the satellite on each and every pass,” Skatteboe says, which is 14 times a day or every 100 minutes. With the March 2007 opening of TrollSat, KSAT’s satellite station at Troll, the Norwegian Antarctic base, KSAT controllers can contact satellites every 50 minutes to download data or change a satellite’s programming.
 
For example, KSAT provides near real-time access to high-resolution satellite data from Synthetic Apeture Radar (SAR), which can observe the Earth surface under all weather and light conditions. The satellite imagery is particularly useful in showing sea ice conditions – which can be critical if for ships in the Arctic Ocean, or for oil platforms or structures in ice-prone areas. Due to this importance Norway has invested in the Canadian Radarsat satellite program, which secures access to SAR data for operational purposes.
 
KSAT’s unique location on Svalbard, with its dedicated staffing and equipment, means the company can deliver the latest satellite image within 30 minutes of its acquisition. The polar explorers Ann Bancroft and Liv Arnesen used the technology to monitor ice conditions in their March 2007 attempt to reach the North Pole. More recently, the Norwegian Coastguard’s icebreaker, the K/V Svalbard, used KSAT’s ice data to support researchers working on International Polar Year projects in the waters around Svalbard.
 
Tracking Ships, Oil Spills
With an estimated 25 percent of the world’s remaining petroleum resources concentrated in the Arctic, development of oil and gas fields in the Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean are high priorities for a number of arctic countries, including Norway. But all agree that development of this fragile area can only proceed with the strictest environmental protection. Satellites provide an “eye in the sky” for identifying and monitoring oil spills and ships off the coast.
           
Use of satellite SAR data for monitoring of ships and ship traffic in Norwegian waters has been operational for more than ten years. The Norwegian Defence and Coast Guard is the largest public user of satellite derived information. KSAT provides the satellite images for the Defence and Coast Guard use, but also provides a ship detection service to other customers.
 
The aim of the oil spill service is to detect and notify the customers about possible oil spills with 30-60 minutes. Where appropriate, the information from vessel’s Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponder is used to identify the source of the oil pollution, and in case of the ship detection service to provide identity on the ships to the customers.
 
KSAT scans satellite imagery of the Norwegian coast to watch for oil spills from ships or oil rigs for NOFO, the Norwegian Clean Seas Association for Operating Companies, an oil spill response association established by major oil companies that operate on the Norwegian Continental Shelf, such as ExxonMobil and Statoil, as well as for the Norwegian Coastal Directorate which is responsible for the national public oil spill monitoring service. KSAT provides a similar service to the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), with a contract that began in April 2007. While all European states regularly watch over their coasts, the EMSA agreement with KSAT now means that all of Europe’s ocean areas are being monitored by satellite. “There are only a few real commercial ground stations in the world,” says Skatteboe. “Our goal is to become the best and stay there.”
 
Venus Express, ESA’s first probe to Venus, is transferred and erected at the launch complex, in Baikonour, Kazakhstan. The probe contains parts manufactured by Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace.
© ESA/STARSEM-S. CORVAJA
 
KSAT’s success, combined with increasing pressure to develop the arctic’s natural resources, has Norwegian officials evaluating the possibility of lofting its own satellite specifically to monitor AIS transmissions from space. Kongsberg Seatex, based in Trondheim, is developing a prototype of an AIS receiver for use on a satellite, while Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace is involved with payload fabrication and product assurance. The design phase will be completed by the end of 2007, when Norwegian authorities will have to decide whether to invest in the satellite or not. The satellite can be quite small, just 20x20x20 cm, says Terje Wahl, chief scientist at the Norwegian Space Centre. “Modern technology has made it possible to build very small and capable satellites, which reduces the launch cost considerably,” he says.
 
Watching a Warming World
Europe’s entry into the space age has accelerated in recent years, with the development of European-designed payload rockets and satellites. One of the biggest advances took place with the launch of MetOp in October 2006. MetOp is Europe’s first polar-orbiting satellite for operational meteorology and is the European contribution to a new co-operative venture with the United States to monitor climate and improve weather forecasting. MetOp includes “high precision instruments for measuring temperature and humidity in the atmosphere,” says Mikael Rattenborg, Director of Operations for the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT). “Our primary goal is to improve short to medium range weather forecasting, and improve our ability to measure trace gasses, greenhouse gasses and ozone.”
 
MetOp, the first of three satellites that will be launched over the next 14 years, orbits at about 850 km above the Earth’s surface, which means it is only accessible to any one ground station for a limited period of time. Rattenborg says that’s why the KSAT facilities in Svalbard are so important.
 
“Svalbard is so high north you can see every orbit of MetOp,” he says. “We have 10 to 15 minutes where we can see the satellite, which is enough time to take all of the data measured and transmit it to the ground. That is why Norway is so incredible.”
 
It’s one thing to be able to download satellite data – and quite another to handle that data after downloading. Kongsberg Spacetec AS is a world-leading supplier of ground station systems for data acquisition from satellites like MetOp and Envisat. Among its many products is MEOS™, the Multi-mission Earth Observation System, which is designed for satellite data acquisition, archiving, processing, analysis and distribution. The company has clients as diverse as the Norwegian Meteorological Institute to the EU Environment Remote Sensing Interregional Agency (EURESIA) in Italy, and the Russian Meteorological Institute in Moscow.
 
Norwegian researchers also use satellites in their efforts to monitor and understand changes in the Earth’s climate due to global warming, with a special focus on high latitude and Arctic regions including the Nordic (Norwegian, Greenland and Barents) Seas, where warm saline currents from the south meet cold fresh waters from the arctic. The ocean circulation and dynamic processes in this region not only influence the regional climate and environment but also profoundly affect global ocean circulation, where warm surface water is transported from equatorial to high latitudes where it transitions to cold and dense water that returns to the equator as a deep current.
 
The Nordic Seas are also highly productive for marine organisms, from microscopic plankton to top-predator fish, like cod. Understanding the dynamics and links between physical and biological conditions is therefore of utmost importance both in a future warmer climate and for sustainable ecosystem and fisheries management.
 
In Norway, “we are very much exposed to changes in climate, so we need to be concerned,” says Johnny Johannessen, research director of Coastal and Ocean Remote Sensing Department at the Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Center, an independent non-profit research institute affiliated with the University of Bergen.
 
Johannessen’s research, using satellite remote sensing data, is of special interest to the maritime community: he’s looking at improving day-to-day forecasts for oceans, at a level of accuracy every bit as good as the forecasts that meteorologists provide. “There is a real need for regular information for ocean conditions such as temperature, currents and water quality,” he says. “Whether it’s for marine security or to protect the environment, if a disaster happens, like a boat capsizing or an oil spill or a toxic algae bloom, it’s important to have a system for making ocean forecasts.”
MetOp-A was launched on 19 October 2006 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, on a Soyuz ST rocket with a Fregat upper stage. Norwegian researchers rely on satellites like these to produce high quality weather forecasts and study global warming.
© ESA - Kurt Büchler
 
Fun from Space – and Vital Communications, too
Satellites provide vital information – but they can also provide access to entertainment. Telenor Satellite Broadcasting relies on satellites it owns to provide broadcasting coverage in the Nordic countries, Europe and the Middle East. The company will launch two new satellites in the next several years.
 
THOR 5, or THOR II-R, as it is also called, will launch late in 2007 to replace the company’s current THOR II satellite and provide additional transponders for future growth. This new satellite will have 24 transponders with three times more payload power compared to the current THOR II orbital location. The company also signed a contract in early summer 2007 for THOR 6, for launch in 2009. Telenor has invested NOK 1.3 billion ($217.9 million) to build, launch and insure Thor 6, and slightly less than that – 1.2 billion NOK – on THOR 5.
Norwegian companies have also had a strong hand in developing cutting-edge technologies for satellite communications, which represent some of the most important links in the ever-expanding demand for high-speed communication from even the remotest part of the globe.
 
Students from 6th and 7th grade at 10 different schools in Hamar, Norway, were given a first-hand look at just how mobile satellite communications can work, thanks to a project supported by Thrane & Thrane Norway, which designs and makes satellite communications equipment. A Mount Everest expedition equipped with the company’s Nera WorldPro 1010 enabled pupils to virtually follow and interact with the expedition for six weeks in the spring of 2007. The WorldPro 1010 equipment weighs only one kilo, provides telephony and data speeds up to 384 kbps, and could be plugged right into the expedition team’s laptop PCs.
 
“It is an incredible feeling to connect up your laptop in the middle of Himalaya at plus 6000 meters altitude and receive emails, update our website and blogs, and send huge video files across the world,’’ comments the expedition leader, Hamar native Alexander Gamme. At one point, he reports, the satellite terminal was covered with snow and it was -15C, but it worked perfectly. The Nera WorldPro 1010 uses the Inmarsat Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) and is the smallest and lightest BGAN terminal available.
 
Improved communications technologies are important in making business more productive in today’s global economy, but they also offer an unexpected side benefit: for example, Tandberg, a company with dual headquarters in Oslo and New York that designs, develops and markets systems and software for video, voice and data, offers videoconferencing technology, reducing the need for company travel, and thus reducing the company’s carbon footprint. Tandberg’s CEO, Fredrik Halvorsen, has encouraged corporate leaders to change business behavior to reduce CO2 emissions. The company has a website, www.seegreennow.com, which offers resources to companies seeking environmentally friendly practices.
 
Each communication and Earth observation satellite relies on literally thousands of specialized parts to loft it into the sky and to guarantee it functions. Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace is Norway’s leading international supplier of specialized parts to companies and institutes such as Boeing Satellite Systems, the European Space Agency, and Dutch Space. The company makes everything from the attachment and release mechanisms for the Ariane 5 rocket, the main payload launcher for the European Space Agency, to deployment and pointing mechanisms for the Mars and Venus Express missions and the MetOp meteorological satellite, to electro-optical equipment for both the Envisat and MetOp satellites. The company also makes load carrying structures, sunshields, sunshades, and solar array substrates used in a variety of space equipment, all of which is designed for the rigours of space.
The Ariane 5 ECA on the launch pad at Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. This launcher is able to put a payload of up to 9.6 tonnes into geostationary orbit. A number of Norwegian companies make parts for the launcher, including Nammo Raufoss and Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace.
©ESA/CNES/Arianespace/Photo Service Optique-CSG
 
People in Space
Putting a satellite in orbit is one thing – but what will it take for humans to return to the Moon, or fly to Mars? Norwegian researchers and companies are busily doing their part to find the technologies and develop the knowledge to make human space exploration a realistic goal.
 
Det Norske Veritas (DNV) was founded in 1864 as a ship classification society, and has expanded its expertise over the decades to include identification, assessment and consultation on managing risk. So it seems only natural that the European Space Agency would ask the global giant to use its expertise in developing ground segment safety requirements for future manned space missions. 
 
The project, due for completion by the end of 2007, is being undertaken for the European Space Research and Technology Centre – ESTEC – and covers requirements related to hardware, software, systems and operations. “DNV has wide competence on safety issues from a range of industries, and now our core competence is in demand also in the space industry,” explains DNV’s Narve Mjøs, who is responsible for DNV’s space activities. “A primary task is to compare state-of-practice safety requirements for space and non-space applications. We can see that the study will provide valuable insight into best cross-industry practices relating to safety requirements. This is knowledge that should be of interest to other industries as well.”
DNV’s expertise has also been called on to develop a certification scheme for the Galileo satellite navigation system - the European counterpart to the US Global Positioning System GPS. With an estimated price tag of E 3.4 billion, Galileo is Europe’s single largest IT project. When the system is fully operational in 2010, 30 satellites will provide a European-based navigation system that will be accessible to anyone on the globe with a satellite receiver, with which they can accurately determine their position in time and space.
 
Galileo’s ambitious programme would not be possible without other Norwegian expertise. Norspace, which supplies components for the international space industry with a special focus on analogue and microwave electronics for satellites and signal interface electronics to launchers, will supply Frequency Generation and Upconverter Units for Galileo’s satellites, while Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace has supplied the solar panel structures for the first four Galileo satellites. KSAT’s Svalbard station will also provide Galileo with four specially built antennas at its station.
The stays that fasten the boosters on Ariane 5 to the main motor must endure enormous stresses during liftoff. They are produced and tested at Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace.
© Kongsberg D&A
 
Plants in Microgravity
Norway doesn’t usually come to mind when it comes to agriculture. But when the NASA shuttle Endeavour lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center on its way to the International Space Station in August 2007, it carried a little bit of Norwegian agriculture on board – eight high-tech “pots” from which a type of cress seed will sprout, grow to maturity and produce seeds, if all goes according to plan. The goal of the project, overseen by Tor-Henning Iversen at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s Plant Biocentre, is to test the technologies that will be needed for astronauts to grow their own food en route to Mars, or if colonies are established on the Moon.
 
The problem is, of course, that there’s no gravity in space, which can be very confusing for a seed, which evolved to push against the gravity of Earth. And then there’s the problem of water, which floats in difficult-to-manage globules in a zero-gravity world. Add to that the fact that everything sent into the Earth’s orbit must be carefully pared to its minimum weight, and you have an amazingly complex puzzle to solve. Prototech, a Norwegian high-tech firm in Bergen, tackled these problems with the design of the “pot” that carries the cress seeds. Each pot is comprised of more than 100 components and cost more than NOK 500,000 each.
 
The seeds are expected to take between 50-75 days to complete their life cycle, after which the plants will be returned to Iversen in Trondheim for study. “We figure that the first group of astronauts will be on their way to Mars in 20 years,” Iversen says. “That trip will take three years, and they have to be able to grow food along the way.” And with a little bit of Norwegian ingenuity, they will.
Located on the island archipelago of Svalbard, at 78 degrees North latitude, SvalSat is ideally situated to serve polar orbit satellites.
© NSC, Stephane Compoit

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