Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT) is following in the footstep of the Norwegian Polar explorers. One hundred years ago, Norwegian explorers conquered the Arctic and the Antarctic, crossed Greenland on skis, overflow the North Pole and placed the Norwegian flag on the South Pole. Several of these expeditions started in Tromsø, Norway.
KSAT, a Kongsberg Company, also has its main offices in Tromsø Norway and has, over the last ten years, repeated the conquest of the poles.
The location at Tromsø at nearly 70°N latitude is ideal for communication with earth observation satellites in polar orbits, so named because they pass over both poles and look down to acquire images of the lands and seas of the Earth. The images acquired by the satellites are downloaded from them by satellite ground stations, of which the Tromsø Satellite Station (TSS) was the first north of the Arctic Circle.
TSS, became KSAT in 2002 and the success triggered an even bolder effort, a ground station still farther north, on Spitzbergen island in the Svalbard archipelago. Opened in 1997, the Svalbard Satellite Station (SvalSat) at 78°N had and still has the unique position of being the world’s only station that can download data from all passes of all polar orbiting satellites.
Recognizing the Polar heritage, KSAT early reasoned that if satellite ground stations near one pole were good, stations near both poles would be better. As for Svalbard in the Arctic, Norway had presence in the Antarctic, at the Norwegian Polar Institute’s research station at 72°S in Queen Maud Land in East Antarctica. The Troll Satellite Station (TrollSat) was built there on solid ground, 300 km from the ice edge. It opened in 2007, making KSAT the only station owner to offer satellite operators pole-to-pole services. That was a technical breakthrough as well as a business innovation.
KSAT has become the world leader in ground station networks serving polar orbiting satellites. It now operates 60 some dish antennas worldwide and has a network operations center at Tromsø to coordinate their activities. Even so, KSAT is not much in the news, though its services are behind much news. For example, KSAT now serves the most important weather satellite systems in orbit. That unseen function is vital. As KSAT Managing Director Rolf Skatteboe remarks, ‘it’s safe to say that if SvalSat should go off-line, global weather forecasts will have no data.’