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Center for the world's weather data

The first antenna was built on Platafjellet near Longyearbyen in 1997. Now KSAT has 40, and the activity is increasing. "Computer downloading is providing more jobs all the time", CEO of KSAT Rolf Skatteboe (left) and responsible for the antennas, Reidar Norheim say. FOTO: Ole Magnus Rapp

Center for the world's weather data

Svalbard is becoming the world's main place for downloading weather data from satellites.



01.04.2016 kl 14:41

Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT) is investing 100 million kroner this year for several new antennas ranging from New Zealand in the east to Fairbanks, Alaska in the west. The station on Platafjellet will be further strengthened and its 40 antennas will be involved in even more tasks.

"Meteorology and weather data has become increasingly relevant for many," said Rolf Skatteboe, administrative director for KSAT, which owns and operates the Svalbard Satellite Station (SvalSat) in Longyearbyen. "Svalbard is now the world's most important place for downloading weather data and that is helping provide more accurate weather forecasts around the world."

From droughts to illegal fishing

At the same time the company is establishing new antennas around the world for downloading, it is connecting to a new generation of satellites that are smaller, cheaper and more flexible.

The satellite company OneWeb is planning to send roughly 900 satellites into orbit around the Earth which differ from the 3,000 larger and more "old-fashioned" spacecraft in operation. The new satellites will provide better communication, as well as secure internet access in areas that do not have it today.

Another new collection of satellites is coming from Planet Labs. Its 350 satellites can assist with everything from monitoring drought in agriculture to illegal fishing in the Barents Sea to "seeing" what kind of weather is likely in the days and weeks to come. They can collect data about fluctuating ice in the Arctic Ocean and see how the environment is changing.

As more satellites are put into operation, monitoring of the Earth is denser and customers can get data from their specific areas more often.

"Svalbard is because of its location and accessibility an important center for downloading from satellites in polar orbit. The fact that we got the fiber-optic cable in the north in 2003 has created a strong increase in activity," said Skatteboe, acknowledging it has generated a billion kroner in revenue for his company.

Important cable

There were three antennas on Platåfjellet in 2003. Now there are 40 and more are coming.

The fiber-optic cable was achieved through a partnership involving KSAT and the Norwegian Space Centre in Norway, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the United States. The entities shared the 300-million-kroner cost of the project.

"The cable has done much for the community in Longyearbyen, and is now also extended and connected in Ny-Ålesund. That residents have super fast internet is a side effect. Most important for us is that our customers have the data we download available within tenths of seconds," said Skatteboe, who recalls the "old days" when large amounts of data stored on floppy disks had to be sent by air to customers in the United States.

KSAT now operates 80 satellites and has about 100 customers purchasing various services. Both the number of customers and range of services will increase when the new Planet Labs satellites are put into operation.

"We have 97 percent of our customers abroad," Skatteboe said. "Fifty-six percent of these are in the U.S., 24 percent in Europe and 10 percent in Asia.


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