Antarctic Broadband: Building Australian Expertise and Supporting Remote Science


 Antarctic Broadband: Building Australian Expertise and Supporting Remote Science

Communication output from the international community of Antarctica has increased considerably with growing research into fields such as climate change, astronomy, ecosystems and meteorology. This valuable output currently relies on insufficient and unreliable links with communications satellites which were not designed to service Antarctica. The lack of a suitable communications platform is limiting the capacity of the researchers and making productive research difficult. The Antarctic Broadband consortium, funded with an Australian Space Research Program grant of $2.1m, is changing the way Antarctic users think about communications.

The plan is to establish a dedicated satellite solution, providing Antarctica with access to a high-quality communication solution. This will result in 24-hour coverage of the Antarctic Circle, while providing over a terabyte of transfer capability per day at speeds comparable to that of home internet.

This will be achieved using small-satellite approaches to design, leveraging recent advances in communications technology to provide high-bandwidth data transfer at lower power and a specially designed orbit. The Antarctic Broadband satellites will be placed in a highly elliptical orbit with the apogee over the southern pole, similar to the Molniya orbit approach used by Russian communications satellites to service the high northern latitudes. These orbits are unique, in that, according to Kepler’s law of equal areas, it moves across the sky slowly on one side of the Earth and very quickly at the other. This keeps the satellite high in the sky for the Antarctic users, far above the horizon. Two or more satellites are intended to be orbiting out of phase, providing the continent with constant coverage.

In addition to directly supporting Antarctic research, the Antarctic Broadband project aims to build capacity and expertise within the Australian space industry, in the design, implementation and support of small satellite system technology.

The Antarctic Broadband consortium received a $2.1 million grant in the first round of the Australian Space Research Program in early 2010, enabling completion of the project feasibility study. Antarctic Broadband is now taking the project to a demonstration phase, building and launching a demonstrator nano-satellite. The satellite will weigh less than 10kg, carrying a communications payload operating in the Ka band (27-40 GHz), capable of establishing a single 10 Mbit/s channel between two ground stations on either side of the Antarctic continent. The satellite bus is based on the University of Toronto Space Flight Lab’s Generic Nanosatellite Bus and the payload is an Australian designed and built Ka-band communications transponder.
The Antarctic Broadband consortium is lead by Aerospace Concepts in Canberra and joined by ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Toronto Space Flight Lab, EM Solutions, Environmental Systems and Solutions, The Tauri Group and Josephmark. Much of the development work is being conducted at the new Advanced Instrumentation and Technology Centre based at the ANU Mt Stromlo Observatory, including the establishment of a ground station to communicate with the satellite.