Arrayed throughout a plateau on an island within the excessive Norwegian Arctic, the 100 geodesic domes of the Svalbard Satellite tv for pc Station appear to be summary mushrooms sprouting from the snowy panorama.
From exterior, there appears to be little occurring. However every dome shelters a dish antenna, that whirs to life all through the day and evening, exactly aiming at satellites as they rise above the horizon and staying locked onto them as they arc throughout the sky. Within the minutes earlier than the satellite tv for pc dips beneath the other horizon, software program instructions could also be despatched up and knowledge is sort of actually despatched down.
SvalSat, because the station is thought, is a vital, behind-the-scenes workhorse supporting scientific analysis. Situated simply exterior the city of Longyearbyen within the Svalbard Archipelago, it’s 800 miles from the North Pole, making it the northernmost satellite tv for pc station on the planet.
It is usually one of many largest. The 100 antennas on the station, some as giant as 42 toes in diameter, observe greater than 3,500 passes every day by a number of hundred satellites, together with many Earth-observing ones which can be important for finding out the impacts of local weather change.
Amongst them are the 2 lively satellites for Landsat, the joint program of NASA and america Geological Survey that gives photographs of shrinking glaciers, altering forests, eroding coastlines and different signs of world warming.
SvalSat tracks many different satellites as properly, together with these of the European Area Company’s Sentinel program, which has similarities to Landsat, and the Nationwide Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Suomi NPP spacecraft, which measures sea-surface temperatures, how a lot photo voltaic power is being mirrored by the Earth, and lots of different variables associated to local weather.
These and different Earth-observing satellites are in polar orbits, circling from pole to pole roughly each hour and a half. A number of the orbits are sun-synchronous, that means that the satellite tv for pc passes over every level on the floor on the identical time relative to the solar. That is particularly helpful for imaging satellites as a result of the angle at which the solar is illuminating the Earth is constant for each picture.
Satellites hyperlink to a couple of floor station around the globe to offer protection all through their orbits. However SvalSat’s high-latitude location offers it a bonus over others, mentioned Maja-Stina Ekstedt, the station’s director.
Due to Earth’s rotation, a station on the Equator, say, which could have been aligned with a satellite tv for pc’s orbit when the satellite tv for pc was crossing the pole, would have rotated far to the east, out of sight of the spacecraft, by the point it handed overhead.
Being at such a excessive latitude, nevertheless, SvalSat would have rotated comparatively little, remaining inside vary. The station can join with a polar-orbiting satellite tv for pc on every of the 15 or so passes it sometimes makes every single day.
“That’s the distinctive factor about Svalbard,” Ms. Ekstedt mentioned. “We will obtain knowledge, and ship instructions to it, each time it passes.”
Consequently, the station downloads a number of knowledge, which is carried below the ocean to the Norwegian mainland by fiber-optic cables.
SvalSat has a management room for managing the antennas, a few of which deal with passes by completely different satellites simply minutes aside, and for sending and receiving alerts. A management room in Tromso, a Norwegian port 500 miles to the south that’s dwelling to the corporate that runs SvalSat, Kongsberg Satellite tv for pc Companies, can function the station as properly. (The corporate runs about 100 floor stations around the globe, together with one other high-latitude one, Troll, on the Antarctic coast that’s smaller and may’t transmit knowledge at excessive velocity.)
Ms. Ekstedt manages a employees of about 40 who function the antennas and restore and keep tools. Whereas the domes are clear to radio waves, snow can degrade the alerts. So, in a location that averages about 170 days with snow a 12 months, clearing the skin of the domes is a frequent activity.
The climate can have an effect on entry to the station itself, as properly. Though it’s solely about six miles to the middle of Longyearbyen, the station is on the finish of an extended steep highway.
“Simply to drive right here it may be fairly fascinating,” Ms. Ekstedt mentioned. “Day-after-day throughout winter we watch the climate very carefully as a result of difficult driving circumstances and avalanche hazard.” If heavy snow builds up on the highway, all however these working the satellites might evacuate from the positioning earlier than the highway turns into utterly impassable. Often staff need to be airlifted by helicopter.
Ms. Ekstedt and her household have lived in Longyearbyen for a decade. Though it has a inhabitants of solely 2,500, there are a number of cultural actions and virtually limitless alternatives for outside recreation. “We’re a bit spoiled up right here,” she mentioned.
And they’re working at a spot that performs an vital position supporting science. “It’s actually superb to grasp what you’re a part of,” Ms. Ekstedt mentioned, “when you recognize what all these photographs and knowledge are used for on the planet.”