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ESA maps communication gaps in the Arctic

16 Nov 2010

The arctic “short cut” is on ESA’s radar. As many forecasts for Arctic sea ice show an eventual progression toward stretches of open water and thin ice, the seasonal use of the Arctic Ocean as an intercontinental trade route is becoming a viable option.

The ESA Telecommunications Programme (ARTES) element 1 has initiated the ArctiCOM study to map the future demand and identify communication gaps in the Arctic for the years 2015-2020 and to come. The study will be performed by SINTEF Norway and supported by Norwegian companies Telenor and Norwegian Marine Technology Research Institute (Martinek), as well as Canadian companies Euroconsult and Telesat.

Waters may be calm now, but shipping activity in the Arctic has already begun. This year, Norwegian-based Tschudi Shipping Company’s bulk carrier the MV Nordic Barents set sail in August using the Northern Sea Route as a transit trade lane to transport iron ore from the Northern part of Norway to China via Arctic and Russian waters. According to Tschudi, it is the first ever foreign flag vessel to sail the entire Northern Sea Route in transit without entering any Russian harbour. In a press release issued by Tschudi, the company sees the Northern Sea Route as a more economic, efficient and environmentally friendly route, as less fuel and CO2 is used as a result of the shorter distance.

Along with the shipping industry, further activities such as exploration and tourism as well as the local population are poised to increase in the Arctic region. The need for proper communications and monitoring becomes apparent, with the most appropriate means coming via satellite. Currently only low-data rate, low-earth orbiting satellite communication systems such as Globalstar and Iridium exist to serve the Arctic.

At the 2009 Space and the Arctic workshop, organised by the Swedish National Space Board and the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute together with ESA, EUMETSAT and the European Commission, ESA was asked to review communications satellite coverage and determine how to expand satellite communications at high latitude regions.

The Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (AMSA) 2009 report issued on behalf of the Arctic Council has also indicated that increased economic activities will need communication infrastructures.

A number of new low-earth orbit satellite communication systems will be operational in 2015 offering medium data rates, including a number of satellite systems dedicated to messaging. In addition, both Canada and Russia are designing their highly-elliptical orbit satellite systems (PCW and ARKTIKA) for broadband communications and earth observation.

The ArctiCOM study will provide an extensive inventory of the new services that will require satellite communications to support activities in the maritime, aeronautical, tourist, off-shore, oil and gas and government areas. In addition, Arctic maritime safety and search and rescue services as well as communication needs for the Arctic community will be addressed. The study will put forward recommendations on how to fill possible gaps.

Results of the study are expected to be finalised in August 2011. Initial findings will be presented at the Arctic Shipping 2011 conference planned to take place next April in Helsinki, Finland.

For more information, see the links located in the column to the right.
 


Last Update: 23 Nov 2012
 

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