Arrayed throughout a plateau on an island within the excessive Norwegian Arctic, the 100 geodesic domes of the Svalbard Satellite tv for pc Station seem like summary mushrooms sprouting from the snowy panorama.
From outdoors, there appears to be little happening. However every dome shelters a dish antenna, that whirs to life all through the day and night time, 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 under the other horizon, software program instructions could also be despatched up and information is nearly definitely despatched down.
SvalSat, because the station is understood, is a vital, behind-the-scenes workhorse supporting scientific analysis. Positioned simply outdoors 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 earth.
It’s also one of many largest. The 100 antennas on the station, some as giant as 42 ft in diameter, observe greater than 3,500 passes every day by a number of hundred satellites, together with many Earth-observing ones which might 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 nicely, together with these of the European Area Company’s Sentinel program, which is analogous to Landsat, and the Nationwide Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Suomi NPP spacecraft, which measures sea-surface temperatures, how a lot photo voltaic vitality is being mirrored by the Earth, and plenty 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 few of the orbits are sun-synchronous, that means that the satellite tv for pc passes over every level on the floor on the similar 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 multiple floor station all over the world 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 west, 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 usually makes every single day.
“That’s the distinctive factor about Svalbard,” Ms. Ekstedt mentioned. “We will obtain information, and ship instructions to it, each time it passes.”
Consequently, the station downloads plenty of information, which is carried underneath 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 Providers, can function the station as nicely. (The corporate runs about 100 floor stations all over the world, together with one other high-latitude one, Troll, on the Antarctic coast that’s smaller and may’t transmit information at excessive pace.)
Ms. Ekstedt manages a workers of about 40 who function the antennas and restore and preserve gear. 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 yr, clearing the surface of the domes is a frequent process.
The climate can have an effect on entry to the station itself, as nicely. Though it’s solely about six miles to the middle of Longyearbyen, the station is on the finish of a protracted steep street.
“Simply to drive right here it may be fairly attention-grabbing,” Ms. Ekstedt mentioned. “On daily basis throughout winter we watch the climate very intently on account of difficult driving situations and avalanche hazard.” If heavy snow builds up on the street, all however these working the satellites might evacuate from the positioning earlier than the street turns into utterly impassable. Sometimes staff must 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 plenty of cultural actions and virtually limitless alternatives for out of doors 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 understand what all these photographs and information are used for on the earth.”