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Watching satellites

Someone can see you, and it's not God. In Svalbard, this hill station can download all kinds of information – like the length of a beard in the Middle East.


[space industry] We drive past high ridge edges, up into the snow, up the mountain. You see neither satellite

one or the antennas from Longyearbyen. And then, all of a sudden, they show up: Six giant and a few smaller footballs spread across a large, flat area.

Greyish-white sky is falling over us. There are optimal conditions here at the top of the world.

No other ground station can receive absolutely all signals from the satellites passing the polar points. Here the information is downloaded, processed and transmitted to satellite owners and other customers around the world. The satellites can also be commanded. When the forest fire in Canada ravaged one year ago, satellite images downloaded on Svalbard were used to control the crew. In southern Sweden, the authorities are monitoring grain crops. Farmers applying for grants can be checked. We blink sometimes, look up.

In less than ten years, an antenna forest has grown up here at 78 degrees north. SvalSat has become the world's largest satellite ground station. The entire Norwegian space business has a turnover of NOK XNUMX billion a year.

Here's a lot in the air: SvalSat recently signed a contract with Europe's alternative to the US GPS system, Galileo. The US has donated a fiber cable for NOK 350 million between Svalbard and the mainland. And a new antenna at Norway's Troll station in Antarctica is ready to be used next year. The antenna will be operational from spring 2007 and controlled from Tromsø. Norway thus handles the world's first pole to pole link.

Oversees grapes and boats

Stein-Christian Pedersen is operations manager at SvalSat and starts talking already in the car up the mountain. When we come up, he shows pictures: Here it is possible to download weather and volcano-

outbreak. Via the satellites you can see fishing boats that flush their oil tanks and get rid of the mud before crossing the Russian border. Other oil spills and leaks from oil rigs are also easily detected. Then the Norwegian Pollution Control Authority will be notified and can send out aircraft to check. It takes an hour from something happening until the data is processed – so-called "real time". Boats on the border of Smutthullet are also detected, if they are ID-marked – and the Coast Guard can move out. SvalSat has a contract with the Main Rescue Center via the Ministry of Justice.

Ny Tid's critical question drowns in examples: When grapes are to be harvested in Spain, it is possible to see when the fungus arrives. Pedersen shows pictures of water reservoirs in China, where you can check which turbines are running and which are not. He shows pictures of how the walrus moves on the Norwegian-Russian border. All the pictures you see on the weather forecasts on TV 2 and NRK are also taken from here.

CEO Rolf Skatteboe of Kongsberg Satellite Service (Ksat), which owns SvalSat, says that the images downloaded today have a resolution of 0,6 meters. This means that objects down to about two meters in size can be detected.

- Technology is constantly improving. Sate-

Llitter is getting better storage capacity and lasts longer, says Skatteboe.

No military activity

Pedersen shows us around. Out the window, far down, rests a blue fjord – Isfjorden. Inside, the room is furnished with new green sofas that were purchased for the royal visit earlier this year. King Harald and Queen Sonja did not have much time up here in the mountains. When the court lady insisted that they go down to Longyearbyen again, the King said: "Well, what if the King wants to stay a little longer?" Pedersen chuckles, says there is a surprisingly low level of knowledge among politicians who visit the station, and there is light snow in the air outside. The white footballs almost disappear in the sky, because they have the same color. We'm looking up. The slightly vague feeling becomes stronger. Someone can see us.

After the Svalbard treaty, the archipelago is a demilitarized zone. Therefore, it is not allowed to download information from military satellites. Representatives of the treaty countries have the right to visit the station. The Governor has the right to carry out inspections, and if the regulations are broken, the ground station can be closed. Ksat must seek the Post and Telecommunications Authority about which satellites they can download from. But war zones also need weather forecasts. The gray zones are not always as easy to navigate.

- What has been said now is that it is not allowed to use satellites for weapons control, that is, to target the troops in war, Pedersen says.

- In theory, there are no restrictions on which satellites can be downloaded from other places, says Skatteboe. This will later be confirmed by both the Norwegian Post and Telecommunications Authority and the Norwegian Space Center.

- There are also no laws and regulations that control the type of information and images that are downloaded. It's a bit of Big Brother, says Pedersen and goes on to say that satellites were used to search for Bin Laden.

- You have such good equipment that you can measure the length of your beard, he says.

- What's next?

- That you get a chip in the neck when you are born, so that it is possible to find out where you are at any time, perhaps?

Pedersen does not laugh, hardly smiles either. New Time laughs just a little. Later, Pedersen will unsolicitedly repeat this vision of the future, adding that it might have been a good solution for criminals. He also adds that it is only the imagination that sets the limits. And others also talk loudly, about electronic guide dogs, about speeding tickets and car surveillance from space. We blink.

Americans control half of all the satellites in space. The American space organization Nasa paid the first antenna on Platåfjellet in 1997. In order to be able to transmit downloaded information quickly, there was a wish for better connection between Svalbard and the mainland.

A few years ago, the fiber cable between Svalbard and the mainland was opened. The United States paid for the cable, which has such a good capacity that the entire population of the earth could talk on the phone at the same time.

- The costs were distributed by Nasa and the American weather forecast Noaa paying NOK 175 million each. Norway took operational responsibility for 25 years, which is a corresponding amount, says Skatteboe in Ksat.

Press spokeswoman in Nasa, Melissa Mathews, explains why Svalbard is important to Nasa:

- Our commitment on Svalbard has become greater and greater. Now they are responsible for the majority of NASA's polar orbit satellites, she says.

- What plans do you have for the future?

- We will continue to take advantage of SvalSat's opportunities, says Mathews.

We drive to one of the latest footballs. There is a door in it that we open and enter. And inside the football, inside the thin cloth that protects against the wind and wind, stands a huge antenna, nothing else. We look at it, and it looks at us. And outside, the polar dogs bark.

Norway in a key role

[navigation] Norwegians hope to build a test station for the European navigation system Galileo this year. The Galileo satellite navigation system is designated as one of the

Europe's largest industrial projects with a price tag of NOK 25 billion. Norwegian-owned SvalSat will participate in this project and recently signed a 20-year contract with the European space organization Esa. Kongsberg Satellite Service (Ksat) hopes to build a test station in Antarctica for Galileo already this year – and in the long run get a more permanent contract, such as on Svalbard.

Galileo is Europe's independent response to the US military GPS system. These two systems will together make it possible to determine the position down to one to two meters accuracy. In 2020, Esa estimates that three billion people will use the satellite navigation system installed in mobile phones, cars and ships. The European Commission is working on a proposal to order satellite receivers in all new cars. 30 satellites will be launched. In addition, GPS has 26 satellites.

- This means that the satellite shadows will be minimal. Around 95 percent of all city streets will be covered. Now it is the maps that become inaccurate, says Frank Udnæs, leader of

satellite navigation in the Norwegian Space Center.

Rolf Skatteboe in Ksat says it may be possible to let aircraft land automatically and unmanned. In combination with a mobile phone, it becomes entirely possible to monitor the movement patterns of humans, walruses and sheep in the future.

- In a few years, it will be as natural to know your own position as to know what time it is, says Dominique Detain, communications manager at Esa.

SvalSat's most important task is to check the health of the satellites. The antenna park on Platåfjellet must be doubled, and only the agreement on the preparation is worth NOK 11 million.

Launches Norwegian satellite

[tracking] On Wednesday this week, the first Norwegian satellite is scheduled to be on its way into space, after a failed attempt earlier this year. The student satellite has a size of 15 by 15 centimeters and was to be fired from the Andøya Rocket Shooting Field. The satellite costs more than NOK XNUMX million and is funded by Penn State University and the Research Council. The information downloaded should be used to identify boats.


  • Ksat is the abbreviation for Kongsberg Satellite Service. They have four antennas in Tromsø, ten in Svalbard (SvalSat) and one in Grimstad. Ksat has a turnover of NOK 110 million.
  • Kongsberggruppen and Norsk Romsenter each own 50 per cent.
  • Ksat has about 100 customers. The largest are the US space organization Nasa, the European space agency Esa, the meteorological organizations in Europe (Eumetsat) and the US (Noaa) Ksat has just signed contracts with the space centers in Japan (Jaxa) and India (Isro). They also contract with Digital Globe, which takes pictures all over the world, including from war zones.

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