Better Service at the Bottom of the World

Recently I returned from an international meeting in Portland, Ore., that focused on bringing better SATCOM service to the South Pole. The meeting was held by the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs (COMNAP), the organization that develops and promotes best practices in support of scientific research in Antarctica.

Intelsat General has been providing SATCOM services to Antarctica through the National Science Foundation (NSF) since before 2000. Communicating with the outside world from the continent is extremely challenging due to the restricted area of coverage provided by commercial satellite providers. Improving communications despite weather and geography, and potentially reducing the number of personnel that have to travel to Antarctica, were important topic areas for the meeting.

Currently, IGC provides X-band SATCOM capacity on SkyNet-4C, supported by a new X-band terminal built near the South Pole. We can provide this service for five hours per day to the Amundsen-Scott station (shown below) located at the South Pole due to the inclined nature of the satellite’s orbit. We’re looking at potentially bringing to bear additional orbital assets with similar inclined orbits to provide even better coverage and additional capacity.

Another very exciting topic discussed at the meeting was coordination among COMNAP nations around joint satellite service acquisition. This could take advantage of economies of scale and reduce expenses and time constraints for all Antarctic researchers.

Eventually we’d like to offer in the Antarctic what many IGC customers already enjoy — a completely bundled service. The SATCOM space segment, hubs and terrestrial backhaul would be combined to provide end-to-end communication for voice, data and video.

Serving Antarctic customers will also pose challenges due to weather and the distance from the equator. However, improved SATCOM connectivity through stronger collaboration can make communications there almost as routine and reliable as in the rest of the world.