Introduction of satellite communications

ANARESAT dome at Casey
ANARESAT dome at Casey (Photo: D. McVeigh)
Diagram of satellite above AntarcticaExpeditioner using the VHF radio in a field hut

Unlike the early days, Antarctica is not as isolated - thanks to modern technology.

Satellites revolutionised communication in the Antarctic. In the mid-1980s, the introduction of Inmarsat signalled the end of High Frequency (HF) radio as the primary communication mode with Australia. Inmarsat was followed closely by ANARESAT, a network that uses Intelsat geostationary satellites to provide a permanent telecommunication link between Australia and the stations. In March 1987, the first ANARESAT 7.3 metre dish antenna established a link at Davis station, followed by Australia’s other stations in 1988.

Initially, ANARESAT operated just one phone line and one modem line of 4800 bps (bits per second). Compared to the radphone, the clarity of the phone line was incredible and made voice-to-voice communication easily accessible and reliable. In 1992, the establishment of a digital data service to replace the analogue modem line increased data capacity to 64 Kbps (kilobits per second).

Today, satellite bandwidth can be added to the system to respond to demand when required. Expeditioners are able to make and receive direct-dial international telephone calls across high quality digital phone circuits. With full-time access to the internet, expeditioners send emails including digital photos to family and friends.

Importantly, satellite data connections have allowed the collection and transfer of large amounts of scientific data to researchers in Australia. Cosmic ray data, once sent via telex tape manually, is now sent continuously 24 hours a day by the automated data logging system. Similarly, meteorological data is sent every minute from automatic weather stations, and forecasters at stations receive the latest live data modelling from Australia.

Communications technology for expeditioners at field camps and on resupply ships has also improved. Mobile satellite systems, such as Inmarsat and Iridium, provide phone and email services to expeditioners travelling by ship en route to Antarctica. Imagery of ice conditions can be received directly on board ships from several satellites. When the ship is unloading at a station, it is connected to the ANARESAT system by a microwave link. A similar link enables scientific data transfers from remote penguin monitoring sites, as well as providing Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone and email communication.

Satellite technology has enabled Antarctic scientists to transmit their data and develop their research more effectively, and allowed expeditioners to stay connected with the world.