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Express-AM4 Satellite Salvage Plan For Antarctic Internet In Jeopardy 46

First time accepted submitter amcenwest writes with news on the fate of the mis-launched Ekspress-AM4. From the article: "A modern, state of the art communications satellite stranded last August in a useless orbit will constitute a double failure if Russian officials de-orbit the spacecraft as planned, according to an expert from the team hoping to salvage the spacecraft. 'A new Express AM4 orbit could provide 14 to 16 hours of daily Internet coverage for the international scientific research bases in Antarctica,' said Readdy." Unfortunately, the satellite is scheduled to begin a deorbiting burn between March 20th and 26th, so it looks unlikely that it can be salvaged at this point.
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Express-AM4 Satellite Salvage Plan For Antarctic Internet In Jeopardy

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  • by HBI ( 604924 ) on Monday March 19, 2012 @08:21PM (#39408971) Journal

    Serious question: why isn't it possible to put a set of birds in polar orbits and just do handoffs a few times a day as they move through their orbits? Or is Antarctic research not worth lofting 3-4 birds in a circumpolar orbit separated by 90 to 120 degrees?

    • by msauve ( 701917 )
      No, it's not worth lofting 3-4 birds in a circumpolar orbit separated by 90 to 120 degrees. But that's only my opinion.

      I'll respect your point of view, if you respect mine, so if you think it is worth it, get a some of your friends together and put in a $million or so each, and go for it. I won't try to stop you.
      • Wouldn't it be 1 or 2 orders of magnitude cheaper just to throw a cable to the next landmass?

        • Always wondered how well fiber optic cable would do on shifting plates of ice... do trench it on the ice or lay it on top?? when it freezes into the ice and the 300 tonn chunk of ice shifts relative to the other and breaks the cable, how do you fix it?!
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Serious question: why isn't it possible to put a set of birds in polar orbits and just do handoffs a few times a day as they move through their orbits? Or is Antarctic research not worth lofting 3-4 birds in a circumpolar orbit separated by 90 to 120 degrees?

      Uhh... do you know how hard birds would have to flap just to get into orbit, let alone stay there? Plus, you know... air.

    • by Donwulff ( 27374 ) on Monday March 19, 2012 @08:37PM (#39409079)

      It is possible. If you read the article in question, you would've seen that National Science Foundation (running the Antarctic Research Program) received bids in the range of $100 million to $500 million for satellite broadband. So not only is it possible, NFS has sought bids on it, and we know the projected price. No word on whether this is within the NFS budget for this task, however.

      Personally I would assume it is not worth it. And hence enters this plan, as Polar Broadband Ltd. believes they can salvage the satellite into Antarctic service for as little as $20 million. It may still be more than NSF is willing to spend, especially considered the risks and reduced lifetime on the satellite and the fact the satellite was never planned for this use so is not going to be optimal solution.

      • by AikonMGB ( 1013995 ) on Monday March 19, 2012 @09:08PM (#39409263) Homepage

        Lol. Try Antarctic Broadband [] -- nanosattellite cube (20cm x 20cm x 20cm) with Ka-band bent-pipe transponder capable of connecting mobile ground stations in the Antarctic circle to permanent stations off-continent. Launch a demonstrator for a few million, show that you can achieve the link, then follow on with duplicate-build cubes as benefits become realized.

        If you want to put more eggs into fewer baskets, with a lower long-term cost, you can do two cubes in inverted Molniya orbits with long loiters over the southern pole; same Ka-band payload can be used, but you'll probably want larger cubes to match the end-of-life power.

        • by AikonMGB ( 1013995 ) on Monday March 19, 2012 @09:11PM (#39409289) Homepage

          Addendum: the problem with doing two cubes in inverted Molniya orbits is that nobody goes there, which means you are going to have to secure your own dedicated launch, which is very expensive. The benefit of chaining a number of nanosats in standard LEO sun-synchronous polar orbits is that everyone goes there, which means hitching a (cheap) ride as a secondary payload is much more feasible.

          • by dargaud ( 518470 )
            Interesting. I was involved for a while in Antarctic [] communications and it's a big problem, mostly on the fact that most research programs are run on a shoestring budget. Only the US has a bigger budget, but not up to ordering its own satellites. For decades they've been running on mostly abandoned military satellites in 'bad' geosync orbit, meaning that they wobble around their position and can be seen when they are far enough south, so there are about 2 windows of communication daily from McMurdo, but not
      • For that kind of money it would be cool if someone could deploy a statite [].

    • by KPU ( 118762 )

      You could call it Iridium. [] []

    • by XaXXon ( 202882 )

      unladen swallows? Or laden I guess, with network equipment?

    • It IS possible, and it's called Iridium. The catch is that it's low bandwidth. But the antarctic bases (as well as plenty of arctic users) are Iridium's bread and butter, particularly among civilian users.

  • by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Monday March 19, 2012 @08:38PM (#39409083)
    Perhaps some portion of the shortwave spectrum could be used for a (low speed) link with the tip of South America, Africa, or perhaps Australia?
    • Re:Shortwave? (Score:5, Informative)

      by RubberDogBone ( 851604 ) on Monday March 19, 2012 @09:02PM (#39409209)

      The data rate on HF radio maxes out around 100 kilobits/s, or about as the same as an old dialup modem. And that's if everything is working well. A more typical experience would be slower.

      Speeds like that are generally too slow for transferring megabytes of data that might be generated by a science outpost, and not useful at all for photographs or imaging files. For that, you want satellite or fibre or somebody to pack out a hard drive occasionally.

      HF is still useful for low-bandwidth things like teletype, SCADA, telemetry, and some other things. And of course voice and CW comms, and digital modes like PSK31.

      • by hjf ( 703092 )

        Telefonica de Argentina installed a 128k wireless link to the Marambio base in 2004. Not sure what they get now, but i don't see why they wouldn't be able to go faster, almost a decade later.

        • but i don't see why they wouldn't be able to go faster, almost a decade later.

          I can think of three. Claude, Ralph, and Harry.

    • by rossdee ( 243626 )

      You left out New Zealand. When the US antartic program was run by the Navy, the support was based in Christchurch.
      (and McMurdo is close to Scott base, in the part of the continent that is claimed by NZ - known as The Ross Dependency

  • This would be an opportune time for an Ori attack, since we'll lose communications to our Antarctic Stargate and the Chair that is down there. Better ramp up our defenses first!
  • I'll take "Satellites that are about to fall into the ocean" for 1000, Alex!
  • Stupid question why do they need broadband Internet anyway? Seriously it a scientific outpost If it just a matter of collecting and sending out data how hard could it be to bring bigger hard drive? Or maybe they plan on just being unmanned soon. You setup your hardware to record whatever the hell you wanted to record and beam all that data to the sat so that all year long you can analyse it on your laptop, drinking Margaritas on a beach in Costa Rica!
    • They need broadband because while the bandwidth of hundreds of aircraft delivered hard drives is fantastic, the latency sucks.

      • Especially when you consider that aircraft have limited access to Antarctica. The weather down there frequently prevents landings / takeoffs, sometimes for quite extended periods. Satellite telephone (Iridium) can be used, but it's very low-bandwidth. Beyond that, though, they're cut off when aircraft can't get through.

    • by Alamais ( 4180 )
      A number of groups down there have raw data rates far too large to store over the winter and ship back (would be 100s of TB). So they send summary plots or averaged data back, and every week or so go through and use the summaries to pick out the interesting times/sectors of data to store long-term until pickup. Better bandwidth could mean better summaries/less averaging, which can lead to better data selection. Or, you know, the winterover teams just want to be able to get Netflix. Probably a little of
      • I'm pretty sure both Netflix and Hulu are out of the question unless they tunnel their connection via a machine in the US.

        Welcome to the world of Not-the-USA where you know new TV shows and movies are readily available but if you try to access them legally you get a "friendly" message telling you that your money is no good and that any day/month/year/decade now they'll get around to letting you pay for it...

    • by thrich81 ( 1357561 ) on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @09:42AM (#39412601)

      Several reasons:
          1) Often we would like to get a big sample data set back to our home offices for analysis while the field team is still in place to do quality analysis they can't do.
          2) Sometimes the field team needs application software or documentation down there. On a related note, because of the availability of Internet there we are much less paranoid about shipping down every piece of documentation they could possibly want.
          3) Recreational -- during down time the people down there like to surf the web like anyone else -- this is currently a low priority use but is still be nice for the folks down there 3, 4 or 16 months at a time.

    • Aircraft only fly to the south pole 5 or 6 months out of the year.

      So your hard drive plan works 1/2 the time (50% solution FTW!)

      • And you cannot bring big enough hard drives for the 5 month when the planes can't reach the place. Come on they don't shoot HD Porn up there do they?

If I have not seen so far it is because I stood in giant's footsteps.