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Antarctic Broadband -

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Antarctic Broadband

Two satellites will soon sail into orbit to provide broadband internet for Antarctica. Once
sailing, scientific data collected from the region will be quickly distributed to scientists around
the world.

TRANSCRIPT

NARRATION

Back in 1912, one hundred years ago this week in fact, Norwegian explorer Amundsen told the world
that his expedition was the first to reach the South Pole. But before he could, it took three
months to get back to the nearest post office in Hobart, just to send a telegram. A century later,
communicating with the South Pole remains a challenge, one that's hindering the work of scientists
there.

Mark Horstman

This is the network operations centre at the Australian Antarctic Division near Hobart. They've
kindly lent me some of their bandwidth to chat via satellite with the United States Amundsen Scott
Station at the South Pole.

Man in Antarctica

Good day Australia from the South Pole.

NARRATION

And that's no mean feat.

Mark Horstman

The South Pole is still so remote, it's out of range of conventional satellites. Good afternoon.

Dr John Kovac

Hi, we use satellites that are quite old. The satellite we're talking on right now is probably
pushing thirty years old, and as satellites near the end of their operational life, to conserve
fuel they're allowed to drift off-station, and so they come into inclined orbits that are, are,
when they become inclined more than around nine degrees, ah, are visible to the South Pole, but
only for a few hours a day. It's a bit nerve-wracking though, to know that our link to the outside
world relies on these extremely old satellites that could fail at any time.

NARRATION

Coastal Antarctic stations like Australia's are just within range of satellites' geo-stationary
orbits around the equator. But that's not the case inland, where satellites are mostly out of view.
And if there's anywhere that needs a reliable internet connection, it's the giant space experiments
in the cold, dry air of the South Pole. The amount of data that's recorded and needs to be sent is
enormous, about three hundred gigabytes every day. With more than forty permanent stations in
Antarctica, science is generating more data than existing internet links can handle. Now a project
funded by the Australian Space Research Program is building a solution.

Michael Brett

Antarctic Broadband is about delivering internet to Antarctica. It's kind of like NBN for
Antarctica. So we're putting up a communication satellite into a really funky orbit that's
specifically designed for the Antarctic continent.

NARRATION

And it's on a desk here at Mount Stromlo that Antarctica's very own internet satellite is taking
shape.

Mark Horstman

You think of satellites, you think of something quite large.

Michael Brett

Well, it's not impressive in size, but it's impressive in what it can do. And we can deliver quite
a lot of communications infrastructure in space with something only this big.

Mark Horstman

When assembled, the prototype is a tiny cube-shaped nano-satellite just twenty centimetres square -
effectively, a mobile phone in space.

Michael Brett

Space doesn't have to be expensive. The price tag on our satellites is somewhere in the order of
thirty to forty million dollars to launch two satellites into space and provide a service for over
five years.

NARRATION

The Australians have partnered with the University of Toronto who have already designed and
launched several of these miniature satellites.

Michael Brett

This was developed in Australia. This is a KA band radio terminal. It's a transponder, and that's
what's going to provide that communication signal in space.

NARRATION

It's the same kind of mobile communications technology we have in our pockets - adapted for use in
space.

Michael Brett

We've only got a few solar panels on board, so we need to get as much capacity out of a little
battery as we can. And then this is the guts of it, this is what provides that internet signal down
to the ice.

Mark Horstman

Anywhere in the continent?

Michael Brett

We're covering the whole Antarctic circle.

Mark Horstman

Any time of day?

Michael Brett

Twenty-four hours a day.

NARRATION

At its closest point, the Antarctic Broadband satellite slingshots around the North Pole, then arcs
36,000 kilometres high over the South Pole to extend the coverage time as much as possible. And not
one satellite but two, flying in tandem.

Michael Brett

So while one is on the other side of the Earth, we'll always have one in view. It's a really
unusual orbit, it's one that's not been used before on, on a space mission.

NARRATION

Getting the satellites into the right orbit is one thing. Surviving the threats there, is another.
These incredible views from the International Space Station are auroras over the Pole. This intense
electro-magnetic interference can fry a satellite's circuits.

Michael Brett

Yeah, it can be very damaging to the electronics as we fly through the radiation belts, so we need
to design the space craft to be able to handle that.

NARRATION

When in place within the next few years, it'll be the internet service that South Pole scientists
dream of.

Dr John Kovac

It would be a game-changer for our kind of science down here, as we build microwave telescopes that
are more and more capable of detecting faint signals from the early Universe. There's no way around
getting more bandwidth.

Dr Brad Benson

People can log in from all over the world and perform their observations and turn it into a, you
know, world-class, twenty-four hour a day, seven day a week, astronomical site.

NARRATION

The exploration of Antarctica has been pioneered by science. But could reliable satellite
communication be a step towards exploration of a different kind?

Assoc Prof Neil Hamilton

Antarctica has been in a very stable phase over the last fifty years, moving towards a strong
environmental protection, international research collaboration type of environment. Now we are
potentially facing a different phase. We're facing a time when countries are starting to look for
resources. New countries are moving into the region, and there's, there's a slightly heightened
feeling of anticipation in the air.

NARRATION

Later this year Australia will host the next meeting of the Antarctic Treaty, a chance to promote
our satellite broadband service for every nation to share.

Assoc Prof Neil Hamilton

We need some signature projects which are going to show how the Treaty is able to, to enhance
international collaboration and build a place of peace and science, which is what the Treaty is all
about.

Michael Brett

Antarctica is a frontier for science, just in the same way that space is a frontier. And to couple
the two together and, and advance two frontiers at once is really exciting for us.