Harnessing the promise of space

Norwegians have long looked to the sea for their livelihoods and as explorers; in doing so, they have looked to the stars to guide them. Now, Norwegian scientists, engineers and businesses have built on this long tradition to develop new products and technologies to harness the promise of space - whether in the development of cutting-edge satellite, navigation and communications technology and infrastructure, or in the design and production of equipment that can perform in the challenging environment of space.

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The Ariane 5 rocket is the European Space Agency's heavy-lift launcher. Nammo Raufoss, a part of the Nammo group, and Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace supplies the rocket with critical components that allow the accurate release of the rocket's boosters.
© European Space Agency

 

 

When the international crew of the Tangaroa, a modern-day replica of Thor Heyerdahl's balsa Kon-Tiki raft, set sail across the Pacific Ocean in April 2006, they tried to duplicate as closely as possible the famous Norwegian explorer's equipment and sailing route. They built their raft using Heyerdahl's specifications, and rode Pacific currents for nearly 100 days, just as the explorer and his crew did in 1947.

 

But one aspect of their journey was dramatically different. The Tangaroa's crew - comprised of Heyerdahl's grandson Olav, three other Norwegians, a Swede and a Peruvian - were able to maintain real-time communication, with e-mail, telephone and fax, thanks to a Norwegian-designed satellite uplink - a Nera F77 satellite terminal, made by Nera SatCom, which enabled the craft to communicate through Inmarsat satellite services. The state-of-the-art equipment allowed crew members to post blogs, transmit pictures and reports, and talk with distant family members.

 

Space technology may seem otherworldly and esoteric, but satellites and space technology are actually a central feature of modern life, says Geir Hovmork, Deputy Director General for Industry with the Norwegian Space Centre, the government agency that helps coordinate Norwegian space-related activities. "When we talk about space, everyone thinks of the Space Shuttle," Hovmork said. "But if satellite systems worldwide were turned off, people would notice." The roughly 1,000 active satellites that hurtle around the Earth daily enable banks to coordinate money transfers, mariners to navigate stormy seas, scientists to study the Earth and make weather forecasts, rescue workers to locate distress transmitters and people from across the planet to communicate.

 

Those products and services mean that space is big business in Norway, Hovmork said, with roughly NOK 5.2 billion sold by Norwegian companies in 2005; 82 percent of those sales were exports. The Norwegian government has recognized the value that space technology brings. In late 2005, the Norwegian government pledged to make additional contributions for new activities to the European Space Agency (ESA) of NOK 947 million, or e122 million, over the next 9 years.

 

Among the projects that Norway's pledge will help support are general space technology and satellite communications, work on the development of future launchers, the Galileo satellite navigation system and the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security Earth observation programme, and support for the Aurora programme - which has as its next major milestone the launch of a new probe to explore the surface of Mars. Such investments are good business: studies confirm that every krone the Norwegian government invests in the ESA brings 4.4 kroner in new contracts to Norwegian firms, on top of ESA contracts.

 

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The Venus Express is currently orbiting Venus, studying the Venusian atmosphere. The probe contains parts made by Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace, a Norwegian company.
© European Space Agency

 

No Atmosphere, No Gravity - No Problem

A hallmark of Norwegian ingenuity in space technology is the country's ability to design for the truly difficult conditions of space. Hovmork attributes Norwegian leadership to the country's history of dealing with difficult maritime conditions, amplified by the need to develop technology to exploit North Sea oil. Any equipment that is lofted into the cosmos has to be extremely reliable, as well as able to tolerate both the high-G forces of lift-off and the zero gravity of space.

 

One Norwegian company that has capitalized on its ability to design for high-stress situations is Presens, which has developed pressure sensors that can operate in the crushing pressures of the deep ocean or in the zero gravity of space. The company's sensor design enables satellite owners to significantly extend the utility of their equipment by precisely monitoring the amount of fuel needed at the end of the satellite's life, says sales and marketing director Stefan Werner. Det Norske Veritas, or DNV, has also made the leap from ocean to deep space. The company was initially founded in 1864 as a maritime classification society, but has broadened its work to include risk management and evaluation of everything from oil and gas operations to the certification of companies meeting greenhouse gas emission limits. DNV has worked for more than a decade with ESA projects, and recently has served as the prime contractor to the ESA for its Galileo System software certification study.

 

Another area where Norwegian companies have found their niche is in the production of components for the ESA's Ariane 5 rocket, which is the agency's heavy lift vehicle. Ariane 5 has two main boosters that are jettisoned about 2 minutes after launch. Nammo Raufoss, a part of the Nammo group, supplies the rocket with separation boosters, acceleration boosters  and safe & arm mechanisms.

 

Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace has also played a part in the Ariane 5 rocket, with the design and construction of the rocket's booster attachment and separation mechanism. But that's not Kongsberg's only role in space technology; the company is Norway's largest supplier to the ESA. The group's ultra-lightweight yet strong solar panel structures are found on ESA-launched satellites, and Kongsberg-manufactured equipment rode to Mars on the Mars Express probe. Other Kongsberg components are currently orbiting Venus astride the Venus Express probe, which is studying the structure, chemistry and dynamics of the Venusian atmosphere.

 

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Telenor's direct-to-home satellite services reach nearly one-third of the world's landmass.
© Telenor Satellite Services

 

 

Communication - Only a Satellite Second Away
Of all the services provided by space technology, satellite communication and entertainment dominate in terms of investments and profits. The international Satellite Industry Association estimates that satellite-related products and services worldwide were worth $97.2 billion in 2004, the latest year for which figures are available. Of that, 60 percent, or $49.5 billion was specifically related to entertainment, such as providing television programming.

 

Telenor, Norway's largest telecommunications company, has a big hand in providing direct-to-home (DTH) satellite services across Scandinavia, Europe and the Middle East - or to nearly one-third of the world's landmass. This dominance has propelled the company into the top spot in terms of Norway's space-related sales and services, with turnover of about NOK 3 billion in 2005.

 

Telenor owns two satellites outright through its subsidiary, Telenor Satellite Broadcasting, and owns a lifetime lease on the Intelsat 10-02 high-powered European satellite. In September 2005, Telenor ordered a replacement satellite for THOR II, which will be retired from service in 2008.The new satellite, named THOR II-R, will provide Ku-band fixed telecommunications and DTH television broadcasting services with 24 transponders. Another subsidiary of Telenor, Telenor Satellite Services, provides global communications via satellite.

 

One technology that is revolutionizing satellite communications is BGAN - or broadband global area network, a mobile service that uses a satellite uplink to allow Internet access and transmission of voice, video, fax and e-mails. In the summer of 2006, Telenor Satellite Services released a mobile satellite emergency communications response kit that uses BGAN to allow emergency aid workers to establish essential communications links for their work. Nera SatCom is one of the world's largest producers of mobile satellite communications equipment; the company's Nera WorldPro 1000, a terminal the size of a book and weighing less than a kilogram, was employed in the summer of 2006 by the Norwegian People's Aid group in Sri Lanka in support of its work clearing landmines.

 

Other Norwegian companies are direct suppliers to satellite manufacturers. Norspace, based in Horten, Norway, is the worlds leading supplier of SAW (surface acoustic wave) filters that work at frequencies from 30 MHz to 3 GHz. More than 7,000 of these filters are orbiting the Earth in more than 100 satellites, limiting interference and ensuring that satellite users get the signals they need. Norspace has also won a contract to supply converters to the Terrestar satellite, which will supply 2-GHz mobile voice and data communications to the United States in 2007. Norspace subcontracted part of this work to CMR Prototech in Bergen, which has developed and manufactured advanced equipment housings for many of the world's major satellites.



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Workers install the Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT) satellite dome at Norway’s year-round research base in Antarctica, Troll Station. When the antenna comes online in the spring of 2007, KSAT will be able to offer pole-to-pole satellite services.
© Kongsberg Satellite Services

 

Improved Satellite Navigation
Norwegian mariners know well the challenges and difficulties of finding one's way at sea. So it should come as no surprise that Norwegian companies have had an important role in developing EGNOS, the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service, and its successor, Galileo, Europe's satellite navigation system.

 

EGNOS builds on the US Global Positioning System (GPS), by using a network of roughly 40 ground stations distributed throughout Europe to adjust and improve data from the GPS system. The American system is accurate to 15-20 metres, but the EGNOS accuracy is better than 2 metres. Kongsberg Seatex AS produced the EGNOS system's reference stations, an assignment that built on the company's earlier experience supplying GPS reference stations for the Norwegian Mapping Authority's SATREF.

 

EGNOS is just the first step in providing Europe with its own satellite navigation system. When the ESA's Galileo system is fully operational in 2010, 30 satellites will provide users with positioning accuracy of a metre or less; Galileo's services are expected to have 1.8 billion users in 2010 and 3.6 billion users in 2020, according to the ESA. The project is the ESA's largest ever, with a price tag of e3.4 billion.

 

Norwegian expertise is at work helping make Galileo a reality. In April 2006, Norspace won a e5 million contract to deliver Frequency Generation and Upconverter Units for Galileo's satellites, and Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace has supplied the ultralight structures that hold the solar panels for Galileo's first four satellites.

 

Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT), which is a joint venture between Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace and the Norwegian Space Centre, signed a NOK 11 million contract in June 2006 with the ESA to build four antennas and associated structures for the Galileo satellites at the company's Svalbard station. KSAT capitalizes on Norway's unique global position, with Svalbard the most northerly inhabited place on the planet. "No one else in the world has this kind of infrastructure this far north," said Tone Schønberg, key account manager for KSAT. "It's definitely our winning sales point - location, location, location."

 

Because Svalbard is at 78 degrees North latitude, the KSAT station can make contact with geostationary satellites to download data or make trajectory or programming changes whenever needed during the 14 times the satellites pass over the pole each day. And when the KSAT antenna at Norway's year-round Troll Antarctic station is ready in the spring of 2007, the company will be the only one in the world able to offer pole-to-pole service with delivery of satellite data in near real-time, or an hour or less from when it was first collected, Schønberg said.

 

KSAT doesn't just download data for clients like NASA and the US's National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); the company has also been contracted by a number of European countries to act as an "eye in the sky", scanning the seas for oil spills using synthetic aperture radar, which can "see" through clouds. Because all ships are required to have an automatic identification system, KSAT can co-locate ships with spills or find pirate ships that may be fishing illegally to enable Coast Guard ships to catch the perpetrators. The group has also cooperated with NORUT IT of Tromsø on an EU project called "Floodman" to use radar-based satellite imagery to compile flood maps.

 

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The Norwegian User Support and Operation Centre, located at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s Plant Biocentre in Trondheim, provides support for researchers who will use the European Modular Cultivation System for their work aboard the International Space Station.
© Bjørn Pedersen/Norwegian User Support and Operation Centre

 

 

A Closer Look at Earth, And a View of the Stars Beyond
Satellites in orbit over the Earth provide an unparalleled platform from which to study the planet. In 2002, the ESA made a major contribution to improving Earth observation with the launch of Envisat, the largest earth observation satellite ever built. The satellite uses on-board instruments to measure and analyse greenhouse gases, locate environmental polluters, identify ocean currents and monitor the Antarctic and Arctic ozone holes. A polar-orbiting satellite, MetOp, was launched in July 2006 to be Europe's first polar-orbiting satellite dedicated to operational meteorology.

 

Norway benefits from these satellites, both in being able to access the information they provide as well as developing products to serve users. Kongsberg Spacetec has developed receiving systems for the acquisition, archiving, processing, analysis and distribution of radar data from the satellites; these systems can be incorporated into ground stations used for environmental and marine surveillance. In August 2006, the company signed a contract with EADS in Toulouse, France for the delivery of an ENVISAT ASAR (Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar) level 1b processor that will be sent to Vietnam for a ground station system being established by the French company.

 

DNV has also entered the world of Earth observation - but not to download or interpret data. Instead, the company has just established a new branch to certify Earth observation services. "We'll substitute today's 'space talk' with a language everyone can understand, partly based on ISO standards and a terminology that the industry already knows," Nina Hesby, project leader for the new DNV group, told a Norwegian newspaper.

 

For scientists and explorers, space offers a myriad of mysteries to solve. Norwegian researchers have been at the forefront of understanding the aurora borealis, commonly called the Northern Lights, which form as a result of the interaction between the solar wind, the Earth's magnetic field, and the upper atmosphere. That expertise helped bring a contract of NOK 60 million from the ESA to KSAT and the Institute of Theoretical Astrophysics at the University of Oslo to download and distribute scientific data generated by the solar satellite Solar B, which has as its main supporter the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency.

 

Norway also hosts its own rocket range on Andøya, in the Lofoten Islands, where rockets can be launched to study near-Earth phenomena in the polar atmosphere. In July 2006, for example, a group of university students from Norway and the United States launched a rocket to an altitude of 160 km to study the ionosphere and a phenomenon called noctilucent clouds, which form over the summer polar ice cap.

And when researchers want to conduct botany experiments at the International Space Station, their efforts will be coordinated by a mission control centre based in Norway: the Norwegian User Support and Operation Centre, at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) Plant Biocentre. Norway is one of just 10 European countries to be awarded a centre like this, said Tor Henning Iversen, an NTNU professor who coordinates the research being controlled by the centre. Norway won the centre because of its cutting-edge research studying how organisms grow and function in space. Now, Norway gets to pass along its expertise, he said. "We serve researchers all over the world and teach them how to do their research in space," he said.

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