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Looking to the Skies

Norway's 4.4 million inhabitants are quick to take new technology into use. The country has one of the highest penetrations of PC, Internet and mobile telephone users in the world, and space-related technology is finding its way into private homes...

Even taxis in the capital of Oslo utilize GPS technology to navigate city streets. Norway is also home to a small, yet thriving space industry. Norwegian companies specialize in filling market niches, serving as subcontractors to European heavyweights. Norway also capitalizes on its northerly location, investing in the development of satellite communications infrastructure in the northern and southern parts of the country and on Svalbard, in order to provide efficient, competitively priced space-related services worldwide.

The 2000 turnover of Norwegian space-related products and services was nearly USD 500 million, of which 70 per cent was generated by exports; that figure is expected to climb up to 10 per cent annually in the years to come. Norwegian government authorities, interest groups, research and educational institutions, and private companies work together to maintain the country’s integral role in Europe’s scientific, industrial and technological network.

Norway follows a long-term national development plan for space activities and is an active member of the European Space Agency (ESA). The Norwegian Industrial Forum for Space Activities (NIFRO) promotes the collective interests of Norway’s private space sector, and cooperates closely with the Norwegian Space Centre, national and international development agencies, and political bodies to create space-related business opportunities. Established in 1987, the Norwegian Space Centre (NSC) works towards the continued growth of the Norwegian space industry by encouraging internationalization and competitiveness, and by giving companies both administrative and technical support. The NSC collaborates with the space community on major projects and develops space-related ground infrastructure and new satellite-based services in Norway.

In keeping with a worldwide trend, the Norwegian space industry currently places the highest priority on satellite communications and satellite navigation, although Earth observation, space research and infrastructure remain important areas of activity. Satellite Communications for the Future Satellite communications technology is being used in more and more applications. The established satellite broadcasting and digital TV market continues to expand, while the satellite broadband/Internet market offers further growth potential. New technology will create a huge demand for infrastructure, consumer and professional products, and services.

Norwegian firms, led by frontrunners such as Telenor and Nera, are preparing to meet such demands. Already, the telecommunications sector is the major contributor to the annual turnover of Norway’s space-related industry, and it is striving to increase its 2000 turnover of USD 312 million to more than USD 1 billion in 2010. Telenor is the leading provider of satellite broadcasting services in the Nordic countries, and is Europe’s third largest. It is also the world’s largest provider of integrated satellite mobile communications services and a major supplier of satellite communications networks for international organizations and corporations. The company is the largest owner of Inmarsat and the fourth-largest owner of Intelsat. Telenor’s broadcasting and satellite network activities centre on its satellite platform at the geostationary orbital position 1°W, which is home to its three wholly-owned THOR satellites, as well as to Intelsat 707, from which Telenor leases capacity. With a broadcasting base that extends from Scandinavia in the north to Italy and Greece in the south, and from Greenland in the west to Moscow in the east, Telenor is developing a range of interactive digital television services. Telenor’s Earth Station at Nittedal, north of Oslo, is the base of its satellite broadcasting network and Internet satellite backbone access services. Nittedal also provides the international satellite telecommunications gateways for operators in several African and Asian nations. In addition, Telenor operates the Eik Land Earth Station on Norway’s southwestern coast. The busiest Earth Station in the Inmarsat system, Eik supports maritime, aeronautical and land-mobile communications, as its unique geographical location enables it to communicate directly with three of the four Inmarsat satellites.

Several Norwegian companies are anticipating the technological shifts that will accompany the penetration of digital TV and satellite broadband. Nera SatCom, the market leader in mobile satellite telephones and gateways, is using its extensive experience with Inmarsat to develop satellite broadband systems. The company has signed a contract with Eutelsat, and pilot terminals and systems are already operative.

Tandberg Television is one of three companies worldwide in its niche, supplying Direct To Home (DTH) satellite systems that deliver digital entertainment content to viewers’ homes. The company also manufactures other specialized products for satellite broadcasting, and its equipment is found in 17 of the 23 compression systems in use around the globe. Yet another player, Teamcom, meets a specific demand in the power generation industry, offering data collection and distribution solutions for SCADA applications that utilize satellite communications.

Satellite Navigation: Explosive Growth Satellite navigation technology is set to become a standard feature in a wide range of consumer products, from passenger cars to mobile telephones. Navigation using satellites is likely to become the primary system for navigation and positioning, and will form an integral part of telecommunications networks. To ensure a minimum of European control and ownership in this field in the years to come, ESA and the European Union (EU) have initiated the Galileo global satellite navigation programme. Scheduled for completion in 2008, the Galileo infrastructure will deliver low-cost, state-of-the-art positioning and integrated communications for users on land, at sea and in the air. The entire programme is expected to create lucrative spin-offs, creating a market for Galileo receivers and other specialized equipment. Galileo complements the widely used American GPS system. GPS and Galileo will function as independent yet interoperative systems, and will save professional users the task of establishing two or three backup systems, as is the case today.

The Norwegian offshore and maritime sectors were some of the world’s earliest users of satellite navigation, helping Norway to become a global leader in the implementation and manufacture of professional systems. Simrad, a leader in DGPS technology, has been manufacturing navigation and positioning equipment for fishing vessels and pleasure boats for years. Norwegian industry is well placed to actively contribute to the development of future satellite navigation infrastructure, consumer and professional products, and services, and a number of Norwegian companies are already involved in such efforts. The Norwegian Mapping Authority’s Geodetic Institute and Kongsberg Seatex, for example, have developed SATREF®, the Norwegian satellite-based reference system. They are also helping to develop the EGNOS (European Geostationary Navigation Overlay System) Test Bed and EGNOS itself. Meanwhile Kongsberg Seatex and Alcatel Space Norway have participated in the definition phase of the Galileo programme, and are now in a position to obtain future contracts.

Observing the Earth Space technology has provided the basis for Earth observation satellites, which gather data that can be used for environmental monitoring and resource planning. Due to national needs and the combination of winter darkness and extensive cloud coverage, Norway has concentrated on the utilization of satellite radar instruments. Norwegian research groups have developed methods to use data from the European ERS and Canadian Radarsat satellites for environmental and vessel monitoring, and Norway has become a world leader in the operational use of such methods. The country is building up a national archive of commercial radar satellite images, and was the first nation to use such images to monitor oil spills and fisheries activities. ESA is interested in testing the Norwegian model to track oil pollution in the Mediterranean Sea based on data collected by its soon-to-be-operational ENVISAT environmental satellite.

A key player in developing these satellite-based services is the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (known by its Norwegian initials, FFI). In 2001, FFI carried out a Phase-A study for a proposed Norwegian microsatellite for ocean and vessel surveillance (NSAT-1). Norwegian manufacturers and researchers also figure prominently in ESA’s landmark ENVISAT project. Scheduled for launch into orbit by Ariane 5 in the winter of 2001/2002, the satellite will carry equipment from Kongsberg Spacetec, Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace, Norsk Elektro Optikk (NEO) and Alcatel Space Norway. Packed with advanced optical and radar instruments, the satellite is equipped to take 3D measurements of atmospheric gases, measure polar ice coverage and movement, register changes in seawater levels, measure ocean winds and currents, gather data on toxic algae bloom and oil spills, register changes in the world’s rainforests, and more. A number of Norwegian institutions are lined up to interpret the data gathered by ENVISAT, including NORUT Information Technology, the Norwegian Computing Center and FFI.

As of 2002, NORUT IT will administer two major EU research projects: one using ENVISAT SAR data to observe ocean wave and wind parameters, and the other using the data to study climate change based on snow and ice observations. Over the next few decades, ESA’s Living Planet programme will launch missions aimed at increasing the understanding of the Earth as a unified system. The first two missions, due to be launched in 2004 and 2005, will be vital to the study of ocean currents and global ice coverage. Norwegian research groups are heavily involved in both missions.

Keeping an Eye on Space research provides important information for Earth dwellers, and Norway is participating in various ESA space research programmes. Among them, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) project, studies the Sun, the Earth’s closest star. Located at the point between the Sun and Earth where their gravitational pull is equal, the SOHO satellite employs UV, X-rays and visible light to uncover changes in the Sun’s climate, monitor solar storms and alert scientists on Earth to flare-ups, which threaten to disrupt the functioning of the Earth’s ground-based and space-borne navigation and telecommunications equipment. The satellite, which will remain in operation until at least 2003, has equipment from Alcatel Space Norway, Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace and Kongsberg Spacetec on board. In addition, AME has provided a detector for the instrument that monitors solar energy output. The results generated by this instrument are crucial to understanding the Sun’s influence on the Earth’s climate.As part of a truly international endeavour, scientists from Norway are collaborating with 200 researchers from 40 countries to interpret and utilize the data that continuously flows from SOHO.

Norway is also involved in an historic collaboration between Europe and China that builds upon ESA’s Cluster II satellite programme, which consists of four identical spacecraft flying in formation between 25,000 and 125,000 km above the Earth. Alongside scientists from France, Germany, the UK and Austria, Norwegian researchers will develop the European instrumentation for use on board the two Chinese Double Star satellites, which will include two Norwegian-made instruments from FFI that are identical to those created for Cluster II. Together the six satellites will supply 3D data on the planet’s magnetic field and electric surroundings, particularly the effects of solar wind on the Earth’s magnetosphere, which, like solar flare-ups, can disturb telecommunications and power systems on Earth as well as spacecraft and satellites in orbit.

Education for Tomorrow

Any country that wishes to maintain and further develop its space-related industry needs access to a steady stream of highly educated scientists, researchers and engineers. With this in mind, the NSC is promoting a national educational programme designed to nurture space-related capabilities, create an interest in the field and encourage recruitment. As part of the programme, the NSC – with the support of ESA and the Norwegian Ministry of Education, Research and Church Affairs – has collaborated with Tromsø Satellite Station to develop SAREPTA, a unique online information source, satellite image bank and electronic meeting place for school pupils and teachers. Free of charge, schools can access a treasure trove of data on meteorological and environmental phenomena, satellite communications and navigation, and the electrical interaction between the Earth and the Sun.

Another institution working to build a dynamic future for the country’s space industry is the National Centre for Space-related Education (NAROM) located at Andøya Rocket Range. NAROM offers lectures, courses and seminars to both school pupils and university students, giving them the chance to use the range’s advanced laboratories. There are also university-level space-related studies offered on the Svalbard archipelago.

As a space nation, Norway faces the numerous challenges posed by the colonization of space by satellites and the probable militarization of space. The country’s space-related community is dedicating itself to keeping up its technical expertise, continuing its involvement in international projects, and ensuring that the industry receives the funding and exposure that it deserves. If the industry’s achievements thus far are any indication, Norway’s role in future space activities remains promising.

By Victoria S. Coleman

Geographical Advantage

Mainland Norway extends up to the polar circle and its territory includes the Svalbard archipelago located a mere 11° from the North Pole. Svalbard lies in the daily path of polar satellite orbits and is ideally situated to receive satellite data and carry out telemetry, tracking and commanding (TT&C). The island group attracts engineers, scientists and satellite operators from all over the globe who are able to reside and work there thanks to its relatively mild Arctic climate and advanced infrastructure and facilities.

The first telecommunications activities on Svalbard started in 1911 under the direction of Telenor. Since the late 1970s, Svalbard has benefited from a national satellite network – the world’s first – which connected it (and North Sea offshore platforms) to the mainland, giving access to the entire range of modern telecommunications. In order to take advantage of Svalbard’s unique location, the NSC has established the world’s northernmost satellite station – Svalbard Satellite Station (SvalSat). An all-purpose station, SvalSat receives data from polar-orbiting satellites and disseminates the information via Telenor’s global satellite network. Located at 78°N latitude, SvalSat provides full monitoring of all 14 daily satellite passes over the polar region. Before SvalSat, two ground stations were required to achieve complete coverage, because even a station as far north as Tromsø Satellite Station (at 69°N) could cover only 10 of the 14 daily passes by a typical polar-orbiting satellite. As the number of low Earth orbit satellites for telecommunications, navigation, Earth observation and other applications grows, more and more operators and institutions are turning to SvalSat for efficient satellite services. As of 2001, two enormous antenna systems for data reception have been installed; one is scheduled to begin operation shortly, and foundations for two new antennas are under construction. SvalSat currently supplies commanding, control and downlink services for NASA and ESA, and signed a contract in 2000 for the operation and maintenance of EUMETSAT’s new polar-orbiting satellite system. In addition, ESA has chosen SvalSat as a back-up station for data reception from and control and monitoring of the new ENVISAT satellite, assisting ESA stations in Kiruna, Sweden, and Rome, Italy. Telenor’s two satellite Earth stations on Svalbard provide direct links to geostationary satellites, enabling necessary communication between SvalSat and customers’ processing centres and office facilities in Europe and the USA. SvalSat is operated by Tromsø Satellite Station (TSS), which has 30 years of experience in satellite monitoring and is partially owned by the NSC.

TSS remains an important station, receiving and distributing SAR data and providing derived services for a number of applications, including agricultural monitoring, ice monitoring, ship detection and oceanography. TSS supplies expert oil spill monitoring services to pollution control authorities and oil exploration companies in Northern Europe, and has contributed to the development of similar services in Singapore and Italy. Situated in the polar cleft, the Svalbard archipelago, provides unique opportunities for solar-particle research. It is also one of the very few places from which to study the dayside aurora borealis against a dark background. Scientific balloons and rockets needed in this work are launched from the renowned SvalRak facility operated by Andøya Rocket Range.