Friday, January 25, 2013

Satellite Communications

After several days of acclimating to the altitude I am feeling better. The station is at 9,300 feet but the air pressure makes it feel more like 10,500. I have been told to take it easy for the first few weeks and to keep hydrating with plenty of water. It was also recommended to stay out of the gym for the first two weeks. Frequent naps help to live with the 30% less oxygen.

I am learning my new job as a satellite communications engineer. There are two of us supporting the winter. We are responsible for operations and maintenance of all things Satcom. The station utilizes three satellites and tracking antennas to keep the station internet and phone (voice over internet protocol) system operational 12-15 hours per day. There is also an Iridium satellite phone system that can be used 24 hours a day. In other words my partner and I are the station’s internet service providers. It’s a big deal here because of all the science research that is uploaded through the various systems and sent throughout the world. And of course the station personnel want their internet. The bandwidth is small but it does work.

The three satellites are GOES (a retired weather satellite), Skynet (a retired NATO satellite), and the South Pole Transfer Data and Relay Satellite (TDRS) Relay (SPTR2). 

All three operate at a very low (< 1 degree) elevation and are controlled from a satcom work station. We man this work station whenever one of the satellites is scheduled for a pass. This entails working split shifts to cover the 24 hour day. It is similar to what I did in McMurdo last winter except not as automated and the customers are on station.

TDRS antenna.

TDRS RF shed.

9 meter GOES Antenna.

The antennas are about 3/4 mile from the station - a long walk in the cold.

South Pole Skynet antenna.

The Vehicle Maintenance Facility on the right. Cold storage to the left of that then the power plant on the left.

Tunnel leading to the power plant.

My room - small but nice.

Cold storage - lots of food.

Plenty of storage.

Nice desk.


  1. The accomodations look pretty new and modern. Considering the location, I am amazed by modern technology. Living in such remote area must really be quite an engineering job to design and install equipment and facilities that can withstand the elements!!! Tropical weather must be for wimps!!! Have you located you favorite PB (Pisten Bully) for transportation? Is the food at the South Pole as good as McMurdo? Will you give your "History of the Shuttle" show to the south polers? The community also looks much smaller. Will the weather be any worse than at McMurdo? I thought I'd feed you some questions to answer to keep you busy. Hang in there. Keep in touch. TTYL

    1. The station is only 10 years old. It is very modern and comfortable. Actually the food is a little better here. Not as many selections but delicious. There are about 20 % of us vegetarians here. After March the weather remains under -50 degrees F so I hope I don't have to go out much. The station reopens early November. Drove a pisten bully yesterday plus had a class on snowmobiles. All the antenna electronics are wrapped in heaters.

  2. Hi again!
    I really enjoy the pictures of your room (and I spied my photo) your work space, and the other areas that you will be living in for ten months. Do you have to visit the antennas daily? Where is the bathroom and laundry? I guess it is nice to just have the few things in your area to clean up....I have been rearranging files and moved my mom's little desk inside today! What a job that was, but really looks sweet. Kids and I are weeding our files this week and getting ready for taxes to be done.
    Glad to hear your voice and that you are feeling better. We will be linking this new blog to our family website soon!
    Take care and love always,

    1. After I took that room picture I took your picture down!....only kidding. I'll answer the good questions in an upcoming blog. Internet going down. Take care.

  3. Hi Mike,
    I'm a researcher at NOAA in Boulder, CO. We have a monitoring system located in the ARO Building which we download data from daily. I am interested in which SKYNET satellite(s) are actually being used to provide the communications windows, can you provide any insight into that. NORAD catalog ID's or names would be nice.


  4. Hi Scott. All of the South Pole science events utilize the Ku uplink from SPTR F5 (South Pole Transfer and Data Relay Satellite). This is the communications satellite system that the space shuttle used and is managed through NASA at White Sands, New Mexico. I am not familiar with any NORAD catalog ID's.