Category: Feature

  • Satellites as everyday tools


    The world needs to become more sustainable. We must reduce both our ecological footprint and our emissions. But how do we know that the different measures will work? This is where satellites come in.

    – The climate changes we are facing are global, and it’s all connected, says Birgit Vildalen, leader of the environmental team at Andøya Space. – Emissions doesn’t just stop by the border; they have consequences for the entire Earth. Satellites can help us see the big picture.

    The climate changes is measurable through parameters such as increased winds and more precipitation. Important infrastructure, i.e. drains, pipes, and power distribution networks, are rarely designed to handle these increases.

    – Sustainability isn’t just about reducing our footprint, but also develop and use new technology that can contribute to surveillance and preventive actions on a global level, says Vildalen.

    Earth observation satellites continuously measure the atmosphere, the oceans, land areas and the ice in the polar regions. They measure temperature, precipitation, ocean currents, wave height, ocean levels, greenhouse gases, and a series of other parameters that are important to understand the global climate.

    – A satellite in polar orbit will lap the Earth 16 times every day, and provide immediate feedback on Earth’s health, says Vildalen. – But it will also show us the development over time, which enables researchers to make predictions about the near future, suggest actions and give decision makers time to prepare critical infrastructure.

    Multispectral cameras are important tools onboard the satellites.

    Daily operations

    – Data from satellites can be used to optimize daily operations, says Vildalen. – There are systems now which can tell the captain of a container ship that she can sail with lower speeds and still reach her destination in time. Saving fuel and CO2 emission at the same time.

    – Up to date data on winds, ocean currents and wave height can be used to optimize the sailing routes when it comes to fuel consumption and at the same time ensure safe vessel operations.

    Farmers can also benefit from up-to-date satellite data.

    – Satellites can photograph large fields using multispectral cameras, and «see» the status of the soil, says Vildalen. – It can give the farmer an early warning. Maybe she should adjust the nutrients she’s using.

    A satellite’s life in space

    – Satellites are amazing tools, say Jon Harr, Director of operations at Andøya Spaceport. – Advances in technology has not only made them physically smaller, but also smarter.

    – Traditionally they we’re all the size of a truck, but now some of them can be as tiny as microwave ovens, says Harr. – Small satellites is both cheaper to manufacture and cheaper to launch. But all satellites have a limited life-span and needs to be replaced after a few years.

    UV-radiation, space weather and large temperature fluctuations are some of the effects on satellites in orbit, which will take its toll on solar arrays, batteries, and computers.

    – Small satellites have an average life-span of five years before the electronics dies out, says Harr. – But sometimes they may live longer. The Norwegian small satellite AISSAT-1 functioned perfectly for ten years.

    It is important to have a plan for what will happen to the satellite after end-of-life, to avoid it becoming space junk.

    – Satellites in low Earth orbit is not in 100% vacuum but experiences a tiny resistance from the atmosphere – also known as atmospheric drag, says Harr. – It is enough to eventually slow the satellite down so much so that it drops in altitude and then burns up in the atmosphere.

    Norwegian smallsats are already at work.


    – Smaller and cheaper satellites means that space no longer is the domain of governments with deep pockets, says Harr. – NewSpace is about private businesses and organizations moving in, and even businesses which traditionally haven’t seen space as a resource.

    When Andøya Spaceport begin the commercial operations at the end of 2023, Norway and Europe will have a complete value-chain within the space industry; from manufacturing of satellites, to launch, to download of satellite data and downstream customers.

    – Norway already has a fleet of small satellites in orbit, says Harr. – Their main task is to monitor ship traffic inside the country’s economic zone, and the data they transmit back is used actively by both the Norwegian Coastal Administration, and the Norwegian coast guard.

    – Avalanche warnings, forest fires, pollution, algal blooms, farmer’s fields, broadband at the cabin, interactive maps and so on. It is basically only our own imaginations which limits how satellites can help us in our everyday lives, Harr finishes.

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  • How can satellites help during disasters?


    When disasters strike, help from satellites can make a huge difference to ensure that the best and most accurate information needed for the situation is made accessible.

    – The satellite data needed during disasters are first and foremost from optical and radar satellites, says Jon Harr, Operations Director at Andøya Spaceport. – They can map the affected area, see the full extent of the damage, and spot entry or exit points and safe zones.

    Thus, optical and radar satellite data are vital for evaluating the scope of the disaster, for emergency services entering or working in the disaster area. They are used for search and rescue, setting up assembly points, organizing evacuation and more.

    – For emergency services, establishing phone and internet communication via satellite is also vitally important, as all ground-based communication may be knocked out in the disaster zone, Harr says.

    Establishing satellite communication for emergency work usually doesn’t take much time, as such satellites already cover the entire Earth.

    Can provide vital help

    For all types of disasters, whether caused by hurricane, tornado, flooding, landslide, earthquake, tsunami, wildfire, drought, famine or other phenomena, the International Charter Space and Major Disasters provides free and quick access to satellite data for any country that needs it.

    The Charter coordinates the delivery of several types of satellite data from many different organizations and satellite operators. This ensures that the best and most accurate information needed for the situation is made accessible.

    With new technology and computer algorithms, even small satellites can provide vital help when disaster strikes.

    Small satellites are used for communication, earth observation, navigation, as well as search and rescue. Andøya Space will launch small satellites in 2023.

    Coverage and providers

    Even for optical or radar satellites, data from any place on Earth only takes from a few minutes to a few hours to obtain, depending on the type of satellite, its orbit and general coverage.

    – Several commercial providers offer optical and radar satellite data in high resolution, Harr says. – They can quickly deliver very detailed images of the affected area.

    Examples of such satellites are the commercial satellite constellations Airbus, Maxar, Planet and WorldView.

    – These commercial satellites provide data for corporations and other private organizations, as well as governments and other public actors, Harr says.

    Commercially, earth observation data are utilized for monitoring land use, development, construction, forestry, ice, maritime activities, water levels, and much more.

    Data processing

    The price for a single commercial satellite image that has already been taken varies depending on resolution, but offers can be found at approximately 15 to 20 US dollars per square kilometer.

    – The cost will be higher for images of higher resolution, Harr says. – Or for images at other wavelengths than visible light, larger size, greater coverage and if the satellite needs to be pointed at a specific area which it usually doesn’t cover.

    However, medium resolution images of predefined areas from for example EU’s Copernicus satellites are available free of charge.

    How can small satellites help?

    – Currently, a higher resolution requires a larger optical system and hence a larger satellite, Harr says. – But small satellites tend to use lower orbits, which can provide a high resolution for smaller optical systems.

    Coupled with specialized computer algorithms and data processing, small satellites are able to provide resolutions near those provided by larger satellites.

    – Because small satellites are much faster and less costly to develop and launch, they will become very useful for disaster relief in the near future, Harr says. – This is in addition to all the other applications small satellites are useful for.

    By launching small satellites, Andøya Space will become a significant factor in ensuring that the orbital infrastructure necessary for monitoring the environment and for managing disasters is present.

    Copernicus Emergency Service

    Norway is not a direct member of the International Charter Space and Major Disasters, but has access to the charter via membership in the European Space Agency and EUMETSAT.

    Because Norway is a member of the European Copernicus Program, Norway has access to Copernicus Emergency Management Service (CEMS). This provides all member countries with satellite data during disasters.

    Norway has activated CEMS five times, in 2014, 2017, 2018, 2020 and 2021, due to flooding or storm.

    More information

    For more information please contact Andøya Spaceport

  • Where does the water in rain and snow come from?

    The research project ISLAS studies the water cycle in the Norwegian Sea, and where the precipitation in Norway comes from during different weather events. This spring, the ISLAS scientists made simultaneous measurements at Andøya and other locations.

    Isotopic Links to Atmospheric Water’s Sources (ISLAS) is a research project funded by the European Research Council that investigates the water cycle, including its processes during evaporation, transport and mixing, cloud formation and precipitation.

    – The hydrological cycle, with its feedbacks related to water vapor and clouds, is a large source of uncertainty in weather prediction and climate models, says Harald Sodemann, professor in meteorology at the Geophysical Institute at the University of Bergen and member of the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research.

    This uncertainty is linked to several of the current major challenges in meteorology and climate research. These challenges include the forecasting of extreme weather events, preparing for the impacts of man-made climate change, but also the understanding of the paleoclimate record from the past.

    However, using precise measurements of stable isotopes in water vapor, rain and snow, the scientists can find out where the water in precipitation comes from, and how it changes from liquid to solid or vapor, and back to liquid again, during its journey through the water cycle in the atmosphere.

    Illustration of cold-air outbreaks and atmospheric river in the Nordic Seas region
    The ISLAS project sampled the local water cycle in the Nordic Seas region at Andenes with stable isotope instrumentation. Image: Harald Sodemann

    A natural laboratory

    -Because the Arctic, the Norwegian Sea and the coast of Norway together create distinct evaporation events, shallow transport processes of water, and swift formation of precipitation, the entire water cycle can be studied here, says Sodemann.

    This is why the ISLAS team visited Andøya Space and its atmospheric observatory Alomar. Together with colleagues from other universities, the ISLAS scientists used Alomar’s lidar and radar systems to investigate ice crystals in clouds and precipitation, and how they change from ice to rain.

    The team also used their own instruments to measure the size and number of raindrops, the stable isotopes in water vapor, and other aspects of the water cycle.

    – We brought a lot of instruments to Andøya in order to do many types of measurements at the same time in the same location, so that we can gain a detailed understanding of the processes of the water cycle here, says Sodemann.

    Simultaneous measurements

    The ISLAS instruments were located both at Alomar, at 380 meters height, and near sea level below the mountain where Alomar is located. In this way the scientists hoped to gain information about how much water raindrops absorb as they fall through the lower atmosphere, as well as data about other precipitation processes that take place on the way from cloud to ground.

    In addition, the scientists had similar sensors in Tromsø, in order to detect the horizontal gradient between Andøya and Tromsø.

    – Even though these locations are not that far apart, we nevertheless expect clear differences between them, for example the time when a storm arrives at both places, Sodemann says.

    Other sensors are placed in Bergen on the west coast of Norway and at Ny-Ålesund in Svalbard in the high Arctic.

    Improve weather forecasting

    This year’s research campaign for ISLAS was intense, but short. Already on the 1st of April 2021 the scientists completed their measurements and returned home.

    – We nevertheless expect to obtain the data we need, because the highly variable weather here at Andøya gives us many different meteorological events within a short period of time, says Sodemann.

    He and the ISLAS team plan to return to Andøya next spring for more data from the same locations, while hoping to add measurements by plane and ship.

    The results from ISLAS will be used to improve mathematical models of weather and climate, including short-term and high-resolution weather forecasting.

    In addition to the participants from Norway, the ISLAS campaign involves scientists from universities and research institutions both in Europe and in North America.

    – We see that close collaboration with scientists at other research institutions and in other parts of the world is very important to achieve our research goals. For us, it seems essential that what we do creates shared knowledge that benefits society as a whole, Sodemann says.

    A service provider for science

    – We are very pleased to welcome the ISLAS scientists to Andøya, says Michael Gausa, Director of Research and Development at Andøya Space.

    Andøya Space aims to offer operational drone and aircraft services for scientists. Commercial drone operations, as well as training and certification services for these, are already well established. The drone services have a wide range of applications, from maritime surveillance and resource management to search and rescue operations, construction inspection and many more.

    – The ISLAS campaign is an important step to complete our portfolio for scientific airborne operations. It enables us to listen closely to our guests in order to improve our infrastructure and knowledge, and to better reach the international research community and inform them of our drone services for scientific purposes, Gausa says.

    Andøya Space has recently acquired an airplane, which in the future can perform in-situ and remote sensing measurements from the air, in the air, and of the air. This will open new doors for Andøya Space, which has a decades-long experience in sub-orbital launches of sounding rockets and research balloons and is building a launch site for small satellites.

    Andøya and its location well above the Arctic circle, on the coast of the Norwegian Sea, is especially well suited for space, atmospheric and climate research.

    – With our newly acquired plane we will soon have the capacity to be a full-service provider for scientific research that is dependent on measurements by drone or by plane, Gausa says.

  • Drones for keeping an eye on the ocean

    Managing the natural resources of the ocean, the coastline and the continental shelf requires surveillance of large areas.

    Traditionally this have been done with satellites in combination with manned ocean vessels and aircraft. Patrolling and controlling borders and delineations in international waters is part of resource management at sea. As is detecting and tracing oil spills from ships, the dumping of refuse by vessels, release of bilge water with non-native species, tracking air pollution from maritime traffic, and more.

    Drones and remote-controlled vessels, either in the air or on the waves, are on their way to making maritime surveillance easier, more effective and less costly. In maritime surveillance drones are used among other for monitoring maritime traffic and activities in fishing and breeding grounds.

    Image of ocean and rocks near shore

    Drones for scientific research

    Approximately 71 percent of the Earth is covered by ocean, and there is still much we have yet to discover in and about it.

    Drones are used for documenting and mapping algal blooms that may threaten fisheries or aquaculture, or plastic refuse that collects on the beaches along the coast and are a hazard to wildlife. Because drones are smaller and disturb wildlife much less than manned vessels do, they may collect other types of data than traditional monitoring methods.

    Thus, we are likely to see an increasing number of unmanned vehicles, not only in the air, but also at sea in the future. These unmanned vehicles will often work in combination with manned vehicles, satellites, and in-situ sensors.

    Illustration of drone helicopter operating in rain with coast guard ship in the background
    Andøya Space is testing the use of drone helicopters

    Helicopter drones at sea

    Due to the greater distances and longer flight times over open sea, the drones used for maritime surveillance tend to be larger than drones used over land. The market for maritime surveillance by drones is nevertheless growing quickly. Maritime surveillance may also require drones that can be deployed and operated from ships at sea. Andøya Space are therefore testing the use of special drone helicopters onboard ships of the Norwegian Coast Guard and the Governor in Svalbard. Such helicopter drones may also assist in emergency operations at sea in the Arctic, a region where the harsh environment requires a particularly rapid and accurate response during emergencies.

    Illustration of drone flying

    What we do

    At Andøya Space we deliver information, data, and documentation to our clients through drones, including drones for maritime surveillance. We have been operating drones since the 1990s and are a full capacity assistance provider for all stages of drone operations, for maritime surveillance, scientific research, construction inspection and insurance, emergency response, search and rescue, and more.

    One of our largest customers in civilian maritime surveillance today is the Norwegian Clean Seas Association for Operating Companies for oil spill preparedness, prevention, mapping and documentation. We provide an around-the-clock drone service in case of oil spill events, offering certified drone pilots if needed.

    Among our partners in the fields of science and environmental protection are the Norwegian Institute for Water Research and Innovation Norway.

    Andøya Space is also part of a consortium led by Boeing’s Phantom Works; the Integrated Remote Sensing for the Arctic (IRSA) Development Group. IRSA wants to increase the situational awareness north of the Arctic circle using a network of satellites, drones and ground-based installations. IRSA aims to deploy drones in the air, on the ocean and below the ocean surface. The network will aid both search and rescue operations as well as contribute to the science communities. Data from IRSA will, among other things, help the Arctic nations to monitor climate change impact.

    Mer informasjon

    Kontakt Andøya Space.

  • Sustainability and space – how satellites help

    More sustainable living includes reducing poverty and hunger, increasing health and well-being, ensuring quality education, having responsible consumption and production, as well as caring for life on land and in water.

    These and other aspects of sustainability are included in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by the UN member states in 2015.

    Satellites and the space sector enable and support these goals in many different ways. The importance of space for communities all over the world will only increase in the future as satellites take on even more essential tasks and become even more important to our societies.

    Commerce, education, health services and more

    Today, telecommunication satellites provide radio, TV and internet signals to all corners of the world. This communication is used for business, education, health services, entertainment, social contact, and much more.

    Thus, satellites bring vital communication even to societies that are so remote or inaccessible that reaching them by transportation is difficult and costly, ensuring and transforming life here.

    For example satellites enable small digital bank terminals in remote locations in Africa, increasing the potential for trade and productivity in these communities.

    At the start of the Covid-19-pandemic, satellite-based telemedicine in Spain provided ambulance personnel quicker and more advanced help from specialist doctors that remained at the hospitals. This is just one example of how satellites through telemedicine may improve health services all over the world.

    Essential functions for modern societies

    Satellite navigation systems such as the American Global Positioning System, Europe’s Galileo, Russia’s GLONASS and China’s BeiDou provide signals for positioning, navigation and accurate time.

    These systems are essential for navigation for transport, commerce, and emergency services, but also for accurate positioning data for the construction of buildings, roads, oil wells and other complex structures.

    Satellite navigation systems also provide extremely accurate time. Such data are used in electrical and water grids, for financial transactions and in large computer systems, as well as other services vital to modern societies.

    Today, satellite navigation systems enable the mobile services market and millions of commercial services and applications the world over. In the future, autonomous vehicles and their markets will depend on accurate and ubiquitous navigation signals provided by satellites.

    Satellite image of Andøya
    Satellites cover enormous areas regularly.

    Protecting the Earth’s natural environment

    In order to protect the Earth’s natural environment and large-scale systems, we need to understand them and know how they change over time. This is the task of the Earth observation satellites.

    Because satellites can cover enormous, remote and inaccessible areas quickly and regularly, they are perhaps the best way to monitor the Earth and its systems.

    The European Copernicus program has, together with the European Space Agency, launched several operational satellites to monitor many different environmental factors.

    For example, one type of this program’s satellites provide radar measurements of sea ice and snow cover to see how the world’s ice caps and snow masses change over time.

    Another type of the Copernicus program’s satellites provide optical data of plant cover and vegetation, as well as of wetlands and coastlines. This is used for monitoring forest cutting, the health of food crops, coral reef bleaching, loss of wetlands due to drought or development, and more.

    Copernicus’ Sentinel-3 satellites observe the oceans and its surface temperature, wave height, wind speeds, and several other environmental factors. These data are used for monitoring tropical storms that may threaten communities on land, or surface temperature and ocean acidity that indicate changes in the world’s climate, to mention only a few applications.

    Illustration of Earth observation satellites
    Earth observation satellites are important tools to understand the natural environment we live in.

    Smaller satellites in the future

    As high technology becomes smaller and more accessible, satellites become smaller too, and can be built faster and cheaper, while still being able to perform the duties of larger satellites.

    Norway’s national satellites, AISSat-1, AISSat-2, NorSat-1 and NorSat-2, are all small satellites. Their main task is to monitor ship traffic, used for managing marine resources and oil spill detection to protect life in the ocean.

    HYPSO-1 and HYPSO-2 are Norwegian small satellites that will be launched in a few year’s time. They will be able to detect algal blooms in the ocean. In recent years such algal blooms have killed large amounts of fish and damaged the marine aquaculture business, important to many communities along the coast.

    Most small satellites launched today are used for communication, but in the future, small satellites are expected to perform more and more Earth observation tasks. Thus, small satellites may play an increasingly important role in ensuring and enabling sustainability all over the world in the years to come.

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    Do you have questions about the Norwegian spaceport?