USAP Communications Workshop - 1999
U.S. Antarctic Program - Conferences, Committees, & Workshops Section United States Antarctic Program United States Antarctic Program Logo National Science Foundation Logo

Proceedings of National Science Foundation

United States Antarctic Program Communications Workshop

ROOM 1295
MARCH 11, 1999

The goal of this workshop is to define South Pole Station communications requirements and to develop the short and long-term strategies to support those requirements based on our knowledge to date on available and planned systems. Discussion of various subjects included:

  • An overview of USAP satellite capabilities and limitations,
  • Submission and discussion of science requirements,
  • South Pole TDRSS Relay (SPTR) and TDRSS operations,
  • Assessing opportunities from industry for satellites supporting high latitude communications,
  • Integration and implementation of USAP requirements,
  • Sustainable future options,
  • U.S./foreign military and other U.S. Government satellite resources, and
  • Discussion of possible options.

Nine summary conclusions were developed among the participants to complement the NSF/OPP strategy to maintain and increase the communication capability at Amundsen-Scott South Pole station.

SUMMARY Conclusions

  1. NSF present course of action:
    • Continue to investigate the use of castaway satellites to provide primary USAP communication capabilities at South Pole Station (short term)
    • Simultaneously pursue studies to determine the feasibility of longer term "permanent" solutions (long term)
  2. Because of the tenuous nature of the only broadband satellite (TDRS F-1) available to the South Pole, NSF/OPP should immediately pursue military, other federal agency, or commercial capability to back up the TDRSS capability.
  3. The Iridium system should be pursued for the provision of 24-hours/day e-mail connectivity as a means to mitigate the lack of continuous connectivity between South Pole Station and CONUS researcher. This would be a low-bandwidth, high-connectivity strategy worked in parallel with developing short-term broadband replacements for TDRS F1.
  4. NSF/OPP should develop the partnership between it and NASA as an outgrowth of the partnerning established to-date for the continuation of TDRS F1 support. NSF/OPP should pursue with NASA the potential to support South Pole Station with the upcoming launches of new TDRSS spacecraft (TDRS-H in Aug. 1999, and TDRS-I in July 2002).
  5. NSF/OPP should avoid acquiring services via a direct procurement of satellite hardware and ground systems due to the complexity, cost, and risk of such an undertaking (acquisition, launch, operation, maintenance, and replacement). Services can be provided more cost effectively by other means.
  6. At the current state of knowledge, NSF/OPP should develop the options to connect the South Pole station via fiber optic lines for two scenarios:
    • to a point where an earth station can access the existing geosynchronous commercial satellite system (e.g., Dome C) and
    • to a point where an earth station can access future high inclination constellations of communication satellites that almost reach the Pole (e.g., Teledesic)
    • The review of options should address the cable maintenance costs and risks to the cable, plus potential international partnerships and enhanced science that might result along the cable route.
  7. NSF/OPP should team with NASA’s Rapid Satellite Development Office to solicit industry to propose solutions to meet South Pole communication needs.
  8. As a part of NSF/OPP’s review of options, the bandwidth and connectivity of a digital, error corrected HF radio link with McMurdo Station should be considered.
  9. While satellite communication between South Pole and CONUS was the primary focus of the workshop, interest was expressed about the need to consider expanding the development of the South Pole communication infrastructure to include wide area network (WAN) connectivity 100 km radialy from South Pole Station. The use of existing technology (e.g. packet radios) was suggested, although other approaches should be considered.


  • 8:30 AM Opening Remarks
    Dr. Karl Erb – Director OPP
  • 8:40 AM Overview of USAP capabilities
    Mr. Patrick Smith – Technology Development Manager/OPP
  • 9:10 AM Presentations and Discussions of Science Requirements
    Moderator, Dr. Dennis Peacock – Head, Antarctic Science Section
  • 10:15 AM Break
  • 10:30 AM South Pole TDRSS Relay (SPTR); TDRSS Operations
    Dave Israel/Andre Fortin – NASA Code 450, Network Services and Mission Projects office
  • 10:50 AM Opportunities from Industry; Possibilities for a Dedicated Satellite
    Jim Adams – NASA Code 401.5, Rapid Spacecraft Development Office
  • 11:00 AM Integration and Implementation of USAP Requirements
    Jay April – CIO/Assistant Project Director for Management Systems, Antarctic Support Associates
    Chris Rhone – Director, Information Systems, Antarctic Support Associates
  • 11:30 AM Sustainable Future Options
    Jim Pettit – Allied Signal Corporation
  • 12:00 PM Lunch
    1:30 PM U.S./Foreign Military and Other U.S. Government Satellite Resources
    Phil Sobolewski – Code 54, Navy Space and Warfare Systems Center, Charleston
  • 1:40 PM Presentation and Discussion of Possible Options
    Moderator, Mr. Erick Chiang – Head, Polar Research Support Section
  • 4:30 PM Adjourn

Workshop Participants
Name Affiliation Email Address
Adams, W. James NASA/GSFC Code 401.5, Rapid Spacecraft Development Office
Anandakrishnan, Sridar Univ. of Alabama
April, Jay Antarctic Support Associates (ASA)
Bell, Robin Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO), Columbia Univ.
Bresnahan, David NSF/OPP
Brier, Frank NSF/OPP
Brown, Arthur NSF/OPP
Chiang, Erick NSF/OPP
Decker, William NSF/CISE/ANIR, Advanced Networking Infrastructure and Research
Erb, Karl NSF/OPP
Fortin, Andre NASA/GSFC Code 451,
Network Services and Mission Projects Office, Space Networks
Hill, Nathan NOAA Climate Monitoring and Diagnostic Laboratory (CMDL), Boulder, CO
Israel, David NASA/GSFC Code 567/450,
Network Services and Mission Projects Office
Jackson, James Center for Astrophysical Research in Antarctica (CARA), Boston University
Kottmeier, Steve Antarctic Support Associates (ASA)
Lettau, Bernhard NSF/OPP
Loewenstein, Robert Center for Astrophysical Research in Antarctica (CARA), Yerkes Observatory, University of Chicago
Mahar, Harry NSF/OPP
Marty, Jerry NSF/OPP
Meyer, Stephen Center for Astrophysical Research in Antarctica (CARA), University of Chicago
Morse, Robert M. Antarctic Muon and Neutrino Detector Array (AMANDA) University of Wisconsin-Madison
Peacock, Dennis NSF/OPP
Peebles, Michael J. Naval Space and Warfare Systems Center, Charleston, SC (SPAWARSYSCEN Chas.),
Antarctic Projects Office (Code 315)
Peterson, Jeff Center for Astrophysical Research in Antarctica (CARA), Carnegie-Mellon University
Pettit, Jim AlliedSignal Technical Services Company (ATSC), Columbia, MD
Rand, John U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL) -NSF/OPP
Rhone, Chris Antarctic Support Associates (ASA)
Rosenberg, Ted Institute of Physical Science and Technology (IPST), Univesity of Maryland-College Park
Smith, Patrick NSF/OPP
Smith, Raymond SPAWARSYSCEN Chas - NSF/OPP
Sobolewski, Philip Naval Space and Warfare Systems Center, Charleston, SC (SPAWARSYSCEN Chas.),
Satellite Communications Code 54
Stark, Antony Center for Astrophysical Research in Antarctica (CARA), Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Harvard University
Weatherwax, Allan Institute of Physical Science and Technology (IPST), Univesity of Maryland-College Park

Opening Remarks

Dr. Karl Erb, the Director, Office of Polar Programs (OPP), discussed the important relationship between the construction of the new South Pole Station and NSF/OPP’s planning support of communications for the new station. The goal of this workshop is to define communications requirements and options to support these requirements (short- and long-term) so that the capability exists to support the science through the completion of the new South Pole Station in 2005.

Overview of USAP Satellite Capabilities

Mr. Patrick Smith, Technology Development Manager, OPP, led a presentation and discussion of current satellite communication capabilities at all of the USAP Antarctic stations.

At McMurdo Station, commercial satellite communication service, a full period (24 hrs/day) T1 communications circuit (1.544 Mb/s), is provided by SPAWAR Systems Center, Charleston, SC, through a contract to AT&T/ALASCOM until Feb. 2000. Continuity of service is of prime concern and SPAWAR plans to re-compete the service contract, with award planned by 1 Oct. 1999. It is estimated that the bandwidth may be able to double without increase in cost. The time division multiplexed (TDM) fractional T1 service provided includes telephone, fax, Internet, and private data network links (Table 1).

McMurdo Station-based scientists find the satellite communications provided comparable to any institution, although they are presently not moving large files (image or data) like South Pole astronomers and physicists. Scientists working on the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Project, based in the nearby McMurdo Dry Valleys, however, have increasing requirements for Internet access for e-mail and data file transfer, which has only recently been provided in a limited fashion.

Table 1 McMurdo Station Satellite Communications

NSF Tasked Provider: SPAWAR Systems Center Charleston
Subcontractor: AT&T/ALASCOM until February 2000
Satellite Links to U.S.: 11 meter Black Island Earth Station (3.2º Elevation Look Angle) ? INTELSAT Satellite @ 177º E Longitude? CONUS Teleport - US Electrodynamics, Brewster, WA
Service: Full Period (24 hours per day) T1
TDM Fractional Services
Business Telephone Public Telephone Facsimile ISDN Access Internet Other Circuits
8 10 5 (2 In/3 Out) 2 Switched 56 Lines (64 kb/s each) 684 kb/s
  • 128 kb/s private NASA
  • 9.6 kb/s private USAF/AFTAC

At Palmer Station, satellite communication service for part of the day is provided by three satellites presently (ATS-3, LES-9, and INMARSAT). Palmer Station has excellent visibility to many international satellites in the geosynchronous arc servicing North and South America and Europe. Future plans call for the installation of 24 hour a day coverage by one of the international satellite operators (e.g., Intelsat or Hughes/Panamsat) (Table 2).

Table 2 Palmer Station Inventory of Present/Future Satellite Capability

Present Satellites Future Satellites
  • Orderwire Voice
  • Public Telephone
  • Point-to-point data transfer, remote host/Internet access (Low cost)
  • Internet (Low Cost)
  • Standard B High Speed Data
  • On-demand telephone and fax (main application
  • Telephone, Fax, and Internet
Contact Time Per Day 2 Hours Minimum 4-6 Hours Available 24 Hours 24 Hours
Link Rate 1.2-2.4 KB/s 38 KB/s 64 KB/s High Speed Data Available 256 KB/s Initially, Scaleable to T1
Link Direction Half-Duplex Full Duplex Full Duplex Full Duplex
Link Quality Poor-Fair: Variable due to Ionosphere Fair-Good: Variable due to Ionosphere Excellent Excellent
  • Shared with South Pole and LMG
  • Problems with multipath signals from ocean
  • Ionospheric disruptions to signal.
  • Shared with South Pole
  • Use of High Speed Data limited due to high cost ($10-11/Min.)
  • Satellites from Intelsat and PanAmSat can provide support
  • Satellites with Hemispherical beams support smaller antenna size

At South Pole Station, approximately 13 hr/day of connectivity exist using four satellites, ATS-3, LES-9, GOES-3, and TDRS F1 (Table 3). South Pole has a theoretical daily total throughput of 5,180 MBytes/day with all existing satellite resources and 656 MB/d without any TDRS F1 service. This estimate does not include a realistic derating of throughput based on such factors as TCP/IP Internet protocol overhead, data transmission session overhead, link fade periods, link error rates, etc. This estimate must be considered an optimal upper bound of throughput. Any practical systems implemented will perform at lower levels of performance. Loss of TDRS F1 would have a catastrophic effect on scientific research being conducted at South Pole Station. An Iridium handset was successfully tested at South Pole Station for voice (only) during the 1998-99 season as a part of the Iridium Beta Test Program.

Table 3 South Pole Station Inventory of Present Satellite Capability

Present Satellites
System Parameter ATS-3 LES-9 GOES-3 TDRS F1 SSA F/R TDRS F1 KSAR
Service Orderwire Voice Public Telephone Network Internet Internet;
Voice-over-IP telephone
Voice-over-IP telephone
High Speed Store & Forward Data Flow
Contact Time Per Day 7 Hours 6.5 Hours 6 Hours 4 Hours 4 Hours
Link Rate 1.2-2.4 kb/s 38 kb/s 256 kb/s (1544 kb/s by FY05) 1024 kb/s 2000 kb/s
Link Direction Half Duplex Full Duplex Full Duplex Full Duplex Simplex
Link Quality Poor-Fair: Variable due to Ionosphere Poor-Fair: Variable due to Ionosphere Excellent Excellent Excellent
Comments/ Future of Satellite NASA funding for operations ends in FY99; to be decommissioned in FY00 due to Iridium Negotiation with USAF for continued access successful; NSF contributing to support in FY99 and will totally fund support by FY01 Antenna controller improvements by ASA FY99; MOA with NOAA to be signed off soon in FY99; negotiation with University of Miami for contract support of T&C and services 10 February 1999 NASA agreed to keep operational to support NSF; MOA is to be established; NSF to begin contribution to support in FY99; NASA to build a dedicated ground terminal at White Sands; satellite health a significant issue; MPEG-2 digital video (6 MB/s) test sent successfully from South Pole; NASA/GSFC/Code 450 working on short term SPTR upgrade

Presentation and Discussion of Science Requirements

Dr. Dennis Peacock, Head of the NSF/OPP Antarctic Science Section, led a presentation and discussion of science communication requirements at South Pole Station for both the immediate future and over the next five years. NSF forecasts, based on active and approved future projects, indicate that science communication requirements should peak for FY2000 and then stabilize at a flat level for the period of FY2001-2003 + (Table 4).

Table 4 NSF Forecasts of Science Communication Requirements at South Pole Station FY1999-2003

Fiscal Year Required Bandwidth Forecast (MBytes/day)
1999 5387-5887
2000 15083-15487
2001 3233-5637
2002 3214-5618
2003+ 2214-4618

Good communications at South Pole are required by scientists for:

  1. Timely return of data for review.
  2. Remote development of experiments.
  3. Remote operation of experiments.
  4. Access to Internet and web-based, on-line resources.
  5. Teleconferencing.
  6. Faxes.
  7. Interaction with winter over personnel.
  8. Logistics tracking.
  9. Community use.
  10. SPSM requires to become a premier research facility.
  11. Important events such as observation of the comet Shoemaker-Levy slamming into Jupiter and seismic events, require good bandwidth.

The Communication Working Group of the South Pole Users Committee had two recommendations for communications in 1997 and 1998. First, availability of communications (e.g. multiple satellites, total communication time, times spread throughout the day, etc.) and bandwidth (e.g. sufficient for data, voice, and video) are of primary importance to South Pole scientists. Second, performance of the communications (e.g. how is communications implemented) is of secondary importance.

Two priority requirements for communications were summarized by participating scientists:

  1. Continuous connectivity with low bandwidth for telephone (duplex) and fax calls, transmission of reduced data via e-mail, and "shift standing" communications at home institutions.
  2. Windows of high bandwidth for transmission of large batch files of data, images, and backups of computer systems.

In contrast to the forecast presented in Table 4 (current active and known approved future projects), the projected data communications requirements forecast by evaluating proposal ideas from the community in the concept or review stage indicate a growth in demand in the years after 2005. Current and projected science requirements forecast by participating scientists were gathered (Table 5). The current bandwidth requirement is estimated at 14.63 GBytes/day and by 2005 is forecasted to be 558.6 GBytes/day as a result of this exercise. The near term forecast does not match the projection presented in Table 4 because Table 5 reflects the potential "pent-up demand" that exists that cannot be actualized due to the present limited resources.

Table 5 South Pole Scientist Communication Requirements

IRIS Seismic Station 25 MB/d 48 MB/d (high resolution; real-time continuous transmission)
Deep Ice STC 25 Station Seismic Array (proposed)   500 MB/d
AMANDA II Neutrino Detector 6-8 GB/d (1999-2000)  
ICECUBE 1 km3 Neutrino Detector (proposed)   200-500 GB/d (2005-2007)
CARA 30-40 MB/d (Continuous) 1-2 GB/d (up to 1 Day Delay) 30-40 MB/d (Continuous) 1-2 GB/d (up to 1 Day Delay)
NOAA 100 MB/wk (14.3 MB/d) 100 MB/wk (14.3 MB/d)
AST/RO   2 KB/s (10 meter Telescope) (173 MB/d)
CARA IR Telescope - SPIREX 3 GB/d  
CARA IR Telescope - 2.5 meter (proposed)   3 GB/d
CARA CMBR Telescope - VIPER 200 MB/d (1998-1999) and telephone calls every 3 days 2 GB/d (2000-2001) when new receiver installed
CUSP (cooperating space physics projects) 15-20 MB/d Space Weather Forecasting, Modeling, and Data Archiving 20-50 MB/d (By 2005)
PAPEN LIDAR 200 kB/d 200 kB/d
HERNANDEZ 420 kB/d 420 kB/d
Educational Outreach 10% of Total Bandwidth (1.33 GB/d) Same (50.8 GB/d)
TOTAL 14.63 GB/d 558.6 GB/d

Not a comprehensive list of requirements. Figures are approximate estimates of workshop participants and selected scientists not participating, which reflect the majority of current South Pole Station science projects.

South Pole TDRSS Relay (SPTR) and TDRSS Operations

Mr. Dave Israel, NASA Network Services and Mission Projects Office, led the presentation and discussion of South Pole TDRSS Relay (SPTR) and TDRSS Operations. The SPTR consists of South Pole TDRSS Relay (File Server, Ku-Band Return Link and S Band Forward & Return Link) <-> TDRS-1 Spacecraft <–> White Sands Complex (File Server and Ku-band TDRS SGL) <–> Internet connection. The SPTR web page ( has a summary of bandwidth usage of TDRSS suggesting that of the 1 MBytes/day available, that only 40 kBytes/day is used (bandwidth underutilized). An MPEG-facilitated video was demonstrated successfully for CBS during the 1998-99 season, using SPTR. This system exercised the SPTR Ku-Band link at a transmission rate of approximately 6 Mb/s. Engineering tests performed during initial installation of the present SPTR earth station indicated that the SPTR system has sufficient capability to permit a 50 Mb/s link without difficulty. This would more than meet South Pole's bulk data transfer requirements. Modest engineering changes are required to enable the link to operate at speeds of 6-10 Mb/s, with limitations mainly due to the computer systems that transmit and receive data over the link (and not the RF link). The Ku-Band component of a standard TDRSS satellite can operate at speeds up to 300 Mb/s, as has been documented by NASA at McMurdo Station.

In February 1999, NASA made the decision to keep TDRS F1 operational to support the communications requirements of South Pole Station. However new resources are needed at the NASA White Sands Complex to accomplish this. Hence the White Sands Alternate Relay Terminal (WART) project begun. WART will provide these services:

  1. SSAF: 1.024 Mb/s IP (expandable to 2 Mb/s)
    • SSAR: 1.024 Mb/s IP (expandable to 2 Mb/s)
    • KSAR: 2 Mb/s (expandable to 50 Mb/s)

is expected to be operational 6 months after start-up (target date is Sept. 1999), and have costs of $500K (non recurring) and $550K/year (recurring). There is still a need to develop a data store/forward center in the U.S., which will improve the operational efficiency of links at South Pole Station.

Present Internet networking architecture problems experienced by the interconnection of the University of Miami and NASA Integrated Services Network (NISN) Internet service to South Pole will remain until structural changes are made to the network. These should be performed in conjunction with the implementation of WART. The interconnection of the SPTR White Sands data terminal and SPTR IP router with IP routers at the University of Miami have been recommended by NASA NISN to solve IP network instabilities and performance problems. In order for NSF to fully capitalize on the 2 Mb/s expansion capability of the present SPTR SSAF/R Internet link when WART is completed, a different network connection to NISN would be required, also. The 2 Mb/s capability for the SSAF/R Internet link will come automatically and at no cost due to the transition of SPTR White Sands operations to WART. At present, NASA NISN is funding a T1 line to connect the SPTR service at White Sands to the NISN Internet backbone. Any changes would most likely require NSF funding.

Bill Decker is the NASA Program Director for Advanced Network Infrastructure. The vBNS and Abilene backbones will yield aggregate speeds of OC48 – 2.4 GB/s. All of these projects are part of the Next Generation Internet (NGI), which other agencies can tie into. Discussion focused on how NSF could more effectively use the increase bandwidth made possible by SPTR enhancements (and future TDRS service by other satellites) so that the Internet as a data distribution system does not be come a bottleneck. Jeff Peterson of CMU inquired about the potential for interconnection of the SPTR links with the NGI backbones, noting that observatories in southern New Mexico are becoming connected (Sun Spot). It was thought that New Mexico State in Las Cruces may be a vBNS award recipient. Synergisms for a data center management, vBNS connectivity, and satellite operations support were briefly discussed regarding support for South Pole as a means to provide needed service and keep total operating expense down.

Opportunities from Industry: Possibilities for a Dedicated Satellite

Mr. Jim Adams, NASA Rapid Spacecraft Development Office (RSDO), led the presentation and discussion of possibilities for a dedicated satellite to support South Pole Station communications.

The communications issues raised by scientists at South Pole are not different than those raised by space scientists. Scientists are concerned about the latency of the data ranging from hours and minutes to seconds. The goal at South Pole Station is for direct transmission to/from PIs at institutions worldwide.

The cost of a communications satellite currently is $60-80 million in today’s market for purchase, launch, operations and maintenance for five years. International partnering is possible to reduce cost. There is a possibility of bolting science payloads (transponders) on the sides of planned commercial satellites, which might serve South Pole Station communications. A constellation of two to three satellites may be required to serve South Pole Station (Molniya highly inclined, highly elliptical orbit). Soon there will be a GSA-type catalogue of "almost-off-the-shelf" satellites. Bandwidth of 5-10 TB/d will also be possible. Regardless of the satellite selected, significant systems engineering is required.

NSF should pattern its pursuit of communications for South Pole Station like NASA’s capability to develop dedicated space missions. South Pole Station is an excellent space station analogue. It is a world class science facility operating in an extremely hostile polar environment. One of the requirements to accomplish the science mission at South Pole Station as in outer space is reliable, high bandwidth communications.

Several investment options are available to NSF/OPP to provide a dedicated, high latitude, communications constellation to South Pole Station. The NASA/GSFC Integrated Mission Design Center (IMDC) is recommended to be used for systems engineering and an MOA exists between NSF and NASA for use of IMDC when needed. NSF/OPP should not rule out commercial service as they have many great possibilities, including hybrid satellites (with multiple payloads aboard). Commercial satellite development time is presently at 18 months and dropping to 12 months, which is good news. The top cost of satellite systems is the cost of the launch vehicles, not the satellites. LEO and GEO satellite downlinks could serve NOAA customers at South Pole Station. In the future a satellite might be parked over South Pole using solar sail technology. Options could be pursued with IMDC that would benefit both Antarctic and arctic communications, which would be appealing from the standpoint of sharing costs among countries and between hemispheres.

Integration and Implementation of USAP Requirements

Dr. Jay April, Assistant Project Director, Management Systems, and Mr. Chris Rhone, Director, Information Systems, Antarctic Support Associates (ASA), led a presentation and discussion of ASA’s integration and implementation of USAP requirements.

ASA has been intimately involved with NSF/OPP in strategic planning for Information Technology (IT). USAP IT planning issues have focused on standardization of systems, configuration management, technology changes, and communications capabilities. ASA has addressed these issues during the IT strategic planning process, which consists of:

  1. Identify NSF agency mission, goals, and organization.
  2. Identify NSF Office of Polar Programs mission, goals, organization, and requirements.
  3. Determine USAP IT goals, objectives, strategy, and tactics.
  4. Determine USAP information resources environment.
  5. Develop supporting documents.
    1. USAP IT Enterprise Long-Range Implementation Plan
    2. USAP Enterprise Information Architecture
    3. USAP Information Security Plan
    4. IT Systems Life Cycle Management Plan

Through its interactions with the Communications Working Group of the SPUC and planning support from review of requirements in grant proposals and Support Information Packages (SIPs), ASA has defined communications goals to better support scientific research at South Pole, including:

  1. More reliable availability of communications.
  2. Improve ease of use of network.
  3. Uninterrupted data flow (on local network).
  4. Reduction in downtime.
  5. Ability to call to and from home institutions.
  6. Ability to send and receive more and greater quantities of data and have more flexibility.
  7. Ability to have more reliable communications.
  8. Limited fax capability.

The current communication systems and their capabilities at South Pole are summarized in Table 6.

Table 6 Current South Pole Station Communication Systems and Capabilities

HF Voice 24 Hours
VHF Voice 24 Hours
Land Mobile Voice 24 Hours
Telephone (Patched through McMurdo) Voice 24 Hours
ATS-3 Voice 7 Hours
LES-9 38.4 kb/s 6.5 Hours
GOES-3 256 kb/s 6 Hours
TDRSS S 1.024 Mb/s 4 Hours
TDRSS K 10 Mb/s 4 Hours

ASA’s has reviewed with NSF/OPP the recommendations from the SPUC from the May 1998 Meeting and implemented the following changes during the 1998-99 season:

  1. Internet: Current SkyX software installation will increase TDRSS capabilities 70-90%.
  2. Upgrades of GOES-3 antenna controllers increase bandwidth from 128 KB/s to 256 KB/s.
  3. Installation of Internet telephone at Carnegie-Mellon Univ. and USAP ground station, Malabar, FL, increase telephone capability significantly.
  4. Adoption of Denver date and time during winter months.

ASA’s planned future activities in communications support at South Pole Station are:

  1. Acquisition of an Iridium telephone(FY99/00)to provide 24 hr/d telephone and low data connectivity.
  2. Implementation of Microsoft Exchange/Outlook as USAP e-mail standards.
  3. Conversion to Windows NT (FY99/00)as USAP standard desktop operating system (business/operational applications).
  4. Upgrades to Science workstations (FY99/00).
  5. Upgrades in cabling and original runs
    1. Garage (FY99)
    2. Power Plant (FY00/01)
    3. New Dark Sector Laboratory (FY00/01)
    4. ARO to Dark Sector fiber/copper installation (FY00/01)
    5. New Power Plant and subsurface line (FY00/01)
    6. Transition plan for SPSE/SM.

Sustainable Future Options

Mr. Jim Pettit, AlliedSignal Technical Services Corporation (ATSC), led a presentation and discussion of sustainable future options. Based on ATSC’s review, the following are South Pole Station’s communications needs:

  1. Telephone service.
  2. Internet connectivity.
  3. Support of scientific research.
  4. Monitor and control remote experiments.
  5. Capacity for future growth.

A review of communication support at South Pole Station tells the present science story. Only 5 GB/d bandwidth is being used currently by scientists at South Pole, versus T1 providing approximately 15 GB/d. The conclusion is that the present communications model adequately provides for science support requirements at South Pole Station.

A heuristic formulation by ATSC for proposed communication requirements at South Pole Station, summarized in Table 7, was presented to stimulate discussion.

Table 7 Future Proposed South Pole Station Communication Requirements

Telephone 2 T1s
Internet 4 T1s
Scientific Support 17-37 T1s
Remote Control of Scientific Equipment [?]
M&C 1 T1s
Spare 1 T1s
Total 25-45 T1s

The challenge of providing the projected communications at South Pole Station is based on:

  1. No existing communications infrastructure.
  2. Overland (ice) cable solutions difficult.
  3. Ocean fiber cables are overkill, expensive, and don’t complete the last mile.
  4. Satellite geostationary arc is not visible.
  5. Satellites in highly inclined or special orbits are visible (will work), but are not commercially available.
  6. Only two of the proposed new commercial broadband satellite systems will provide coverage at the Pole.
    1. Teledesic System (150 mile coverage gap surrounding the poles based on presently advertised 288 satellite constellation design; requires capitalization of a terrestrial fiber optic cable and a remote/autonomous earth station)
    2. Hughes Spaceway NGSO (direct reception at South Pole possible based on present advertised 20 satellite constellation)
  7. New systems are high risk
    1. High cost, billions of dollars
    2. Venture capital and public financing required, and markets are waiting on the assessment of economic viability of Iridium prior to further committment to finance new systems
    3. Technically challenging (Teledesic)
    4. No market exists in Antarctica, implying that future business risk mitigation measures by systems designers might further eliminate any ability to support South Pole
  8. Iridium provides low data rate coverage at the Pole (inadequate solution for Gbyte/day and Internet class of service requirements).

ATSC considered these challenges and ranked potential solutions as shown in Table 8.

Table 8 Potential Satellite Communication Solutions for South Pole Station Ranked by Cost

  Costs ($, Million)  
  Non Recurring Recurring Comment
Cable Sea and Land segments 206 10 Excess Capacity; High costs
Satellite NSF Molniya with Launch  
1 Satellite 60-85 5 Partial coverage daily 8 hours; May have only 10 year life
2 Satellites 150 5 Nearly full time coverage 16 hours; May have only 10 year life
Land Cable to Dome C for Geo Visibility 62 3.5 Good solution if land cable is safe
Microwave Link to Coast 45 4 Adequate solution; scars landscape; sustaining O&M costly and involved; risk for system availability in winter
Microwave Link to longitude to reach Geo Visibility     Adequate solution; scars landscape; sustaining O&M costly and involved; risk for system availability in winter
Land Cable to 150 miles Teledesic 9 1.3 Depends on Teledesic viability
Use Misplaced Orbit Satellite 9 3 Excellent solution; needs candidate satellites (one identified so far)
Use Old Geo Satellites  
TDRS F1 0 2+ Excellent solution; life expectancy is very limited; needs replacements
MARISAT F3 2 1.2 Fair solution; 4 hours day of T1

There are three types of solutions, which have tradeoffs:

  1. Satellites
    1. Inclined GEO
    2. Old GEOs (many problems) lack or availability.
    3. Dedicated satellites (Molniya for example)
    4. Shared mission solutions.
  2. Cable undersea and land
  3. Combinations of satellite and cable solutions.

One new possibility would be for NSF to acquire a Molniya satellite for the southern hemisphere. The advantage of a Molniya satellite would be that a large portion of the Southern Hemisphere is covered within the visibility limit of a satellite global antenna beam. Most of Antarctica would be covered within the visibility limit of a typical high gain spot beam.

ATSC assessed issues of partnering and cutting deals with others to cut and share communications costs at South Pole Station. Advantages are:

  1. Partnering shares costs and use (satellite and cable).
  2. Satellite solution costs can be offset considerably with multi-users.
  3. Excess capacity can be sold off.
  4. Partners can lease or buy as a block creating economic viability.
  5. Agreements might be made with NASA-NRO, etc. to use satellites or take over spares.

The chief disadvantage is that NSF is working in a region where partners are scarce and resources (satellites) are limited.

ATSC recommended this follow on work:

  1. Validate costs for a fiber optic cable to Antarctic latitides where standard GEO satellites and other selected options are possible.
  2. Do a Request For Information (RFI) to industry to obtain better cost model - NASA may help.
  3. Continue search for satisfactory inclined GEO satellites.
  4. Explore arrangements to take over old satellites-pipeline of potential satellites.
  5. Determine route survey details for land cable.

U.S./Foreign Military and Other U.S. Government Satellite Resources

Mr. Phil Sobolewski, SPAWAR Charleston, presented and led a discussion on potential U.S./foreign military and other U.S. government satellite resources to meet South Pole Station communication requirements. Over forty satellites were examined by SPAWAR for present and future capabilities and are summarized in Table 9.

Table 9 U.S./Foreign Military and Other U.S. Government Satellite Resources for Potential Communication Use at South Pole Station

Satellite system Types Num Sats Exmd Current Possibilities Capabilities Future Possibilities Capabilities
U.S. Military Communications Systems DSCS Series FLTSAT Series UFO Series MDLSTAR LDR and MDR EHF Polar Adjunct SDS EHF Polar Follow-on Advanced F Series 35 FLTSAT F1 and F4 Mediumband Capable (500 kHz) DSCS 3-F1, if preserved, would be visible at Pole in 2002 Very broadband capability
Both Visible for 6.5 Hours/d    
F4 Mutually Visible from Pole and CONUS for 5.5 Hours/day    
    EHF Polar Follow-on System Will launch 2006 19.6 kb/s Projected Commun-ications Package; not considered relevant to Pole broadband requirement
    Advanced EHF System for Polar Follow-on Polar Orbit planned for 2006-2010; Polar Follow-on could be Broadband; planning ill defined at present
Allied Military Systems NATO Series SKYNET Series 4     NATO III-D, if preserved, will become visible at South Pole circa 2006 Broadband capability, similar to the DSCS system.
U.S. Military non-Commun-ications Systems GPS Series 1 GPS NAVSTAR 2A-13 One-way broadband (~ 1Mb/s) may be possible using ranging transponder. Used for testing and checkout. Visible for 9.5 Hours/day between McMurdo and Pole. Mutually visible from Pole and CONUS for 3 Hours/day.    
Classified Intelligence Satellites NRO Satellites 1 NRO Satellites One Geosynch-ronous satellite may be usable; Additional dialog with NRO required to assess concept of NRO support    

Satellite bandwidth capability varied from Milstar and EHF Polar (0.000075 MHz) to DSCS (85 MHz). Geo orbit satellite inclinations ranged from UFO-7 (4 degrees) to FLTSAT-1 (13.8 degrees). South Pole daily visibility was a minimum with FLTSAT-4 (6.5 hrs) to a maximum with GPS 2A-13 (9.5 hrs). South Pole/CONUS Mutual Daily Visibility varied from GPS 2A-13 (3 hrs) to FLTSAT-4 (5.5 hrs). Daily theoretical data transfer capability ranged from a minimum with FLTSAT-4 (9.9 GB/d) to a maximum with GPS 2A-13 (12 GB/d).

SPAWAR concluded that the current possibilities are the FLTSAT F1 and F4, GPS NAVSTAR 2A-13, and NRO satellites, and future possibilities are, Advanced EHF Polar Follow-On System, and DSCS-3 F1 and NATO III-D following replacement (see Table 9 for details).

SPAWAR recommends that NSF/OPP consider taking these next steps:

  1. Pursue authorization to use FLTSAT F1 or F4, and GPS NAVSTAR 2A-13.
  2. Pursue the NRO geosynchronous satellite possibility.
  3. Research the ground equipment requirements for current and future communication scenarios.
  4. Prepare for future possibilities.
  5. Execute the down selection process.

Presentation and Discussion of Possible Options

Mr. Erick Chiang, NSF/OPP Section Head, Polar Research Support Section, led the participants in a review discussion of possible options and detailing summary recommendations. NSF/OPP is transitioning from an ad hoc process to a systematic approach to addressing communications, which is learning a different mode of doing business at South Pole.

The following questions were presented for clarification by the participants of the workshop:

  1. Is there anything more to add regarding bandwidth?
  2. How reliable should communication systems be?
  3. What should the degree of connectivity be?
  4. What are the short-term (FY02)/long-term (beyond FY02) options?
  5. What should the strategy be for implementation with risk mitigation – backups?
  6. What are the costs and benefits of the various communication options?
  7. What should be the short-term allocation of resources?

The recommended availability, reliability, and bandwidth for communication systems at South Pole Station were defined (Table 10).

Table 10 Recommended Availability, Reliability, and Bandwidth for Communication Systems at South Pole Station

Telephony 24 99% 2 T1s (30 GB/d)
Internet 24 99% 4 T1s (60 GB/d)
High Data Rate 12 99%+ 25 GB/d
Total   115 GB/d

A 99% availability translates into an annual acceptable total outage of 87.6 hours per year (based on continuous 24 hour/day coverage), or equivalently 7.3 hours per month or 14.4 minutes/day. In the case of the Internet, outage would have to be defined as the service not being available due to whatever causes, to include performance degrading below some pre-defined acceptable level (a present issue with the service provided via LES-9 - the link is highly available when the satellite is visible, but link quality is often marginal, meaning that many kinds of applications cannot be performed over the Internet link).

Short-term (FY02)/long-term (beyond FY02) options were identified and three categories of capability recommended: minimum, acceptable, and wish list. To meet short-term communication requirements, while the long-term options are being identified, the following primary satellites are recommended to be maintained with backup satellites:

  1. Current mix of satellites
      1. GOES-3
      2. TDRS F1
      3. Iridium
      4. LES-9
    1. Backup satellites
      1. MARISAT
      2. GOES-2
      3. Military alternatives

Last, it was recommended that NSF/OPP consider installation of a flexible ground station to take advantage of the various satellite systems presently available and potentially available in the future.

The workshop concluded with nine summary conclusions being made to NSF/OPP for review and action (see Executive Summary and Summary Conclusions).

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