Maintaining vital communications links during an arduous Antarctic mission.
The crew of the US Coastguard Heavy Icebreaker Polar Star had access to easily installed and always reliable Inmarsat satellite services, so virtually uninterrupted connectivity to command centres – and family members – was never in doubt.
Once a year, crews haul critical deliveries of fuel, food and other supplies to the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station in Antarctica (located at 77 degrees 51 minutes S, 166 degrees 40 minutes E). Todd Jacobs of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and seven other team members joined Operation Deep Freeze by assisting on the Polar Star, a 399‐foot Heavy Icebreaker ship manned by 140 Coast Guard crew members.
On board, NOAA’s primary role involved the transmission of data, images and video from unmanned AeroVironment Puma AE (All Environment) aircraft. The team used Inmarsat satellite communications (SATCOM) for constant connectivity. In the weeks leading up to the trip, nothingcould prepare Jacobs and his colleagues for what they’d face: wind chills plunged into negative double‐digits, and howling storms were measured at up to 200 mph (320 kph).
During the more than one‐month long operation, Inmarsat’s reliable satellite communication services proved indispensable. The network included BGAN and Global Satellite Phone Service (GSPS) through an Inmarsat IsatPhone 2 handset. At first, BGAN was intended as a backup, in case the Coast Guard‐provided email system broke down. As it turns out, the Coast Guard was never able to link the NOAA team to its email system. So BGAN emerged as the only available option, and it remained reliable for the duration of the voyage.
“This was huge from a professional standpoint. We counted on Inmarsat BGAN throughout the operation to communicate with our command centers. Then, we used BGAN to check in with our families and keep up with life events while we were at sea.”
With Inmarsat’s highly reliable, 99.9% network availability for its L‐band constellation, team members were free to download and transmit data reports, images and video clips to command centers in Washington D.C. and Florida.
Mission success achieved
Without Inmarsat’s communication services, The Puma crew’s capability for operating would have been severely limited due to a lack of reliable communication with flight governing authorities, and the dissemination of the data would have been limited to personnel aboard the ship. Additionally, there would have not been a way for the ice and weather forecasters to send and receive the images taken by satellites in space.
“The unmanned aircraft observational images and data provide a real‐time capability that is critical for tactical use,” Jacobs says. “Having high‐resolution imaging can make our ice forecasting more accurate by providing ‘ground truth’ and validating the forecasts. The objective is to be able to tell the crew exactly where the ice is, and how thick it is, in order to help the Coast Guard navigate the ship safely and efficiently.”
With this, NOAA operation participants stayed in touch with command centers and family through the reliable Inmarsat BGAN and IsatPhone 2 communication services. “The phone worked pretty much the entire time,” Jacobs says. “And thanks to the BGAN terminal, we could send and receive email the entire time too. Both systems were so reliable, that the captain of the ship asked us if he could use it a couple of times, because he couldn’t download certain files through his Coast Guard email service. So it’s safe to say Inmarsat won over quite a few fans on the ship.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is an American scientific agency within the United States Department of Commerce that focuses on the conditions of the oceans and the atmosphere. NOAA warns of dangerous weather, charts seas, guides the use and protection of ocean and coastal resources and conducts research to provide understanding and improve stewardship of the environment.