July 12, 2010

Norway Launches Ship Observation Satellite

Norway launched a spacecraft on Monday with the intention to help monitor shipping in its territorial waters.

The AISSat-1 satellite will track ships over 300 gross tons by picking up signals from their Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponders.

AIS is used principally for collision-avoidance, and the authorities use it to keep watch on cargo, passenger and fisheries activity.

The small satellite will enable Norway to see what is happening over the area.

"Norway has the largest sea area to manage in Europe, and this area is the source for a lot of Norwegian income, from oil to fisheries," Bo Andersen, the director general of the Norwegian Space Center, told BBC News.

"We want to manage these resources in the best possible manner; and we do that now with radar satellites that give us quite a good overview about where ships are. But they don't give us knowledge about which ships they are."

"Of course, the fisheries authorities and the coastguard can go out in airplanes and check the ships, but we are talking about an area that's bigger than the Mediterranean. So we want a more efficient system."

The AISSat-1 was one of five payloads launched on an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle from the Sriharikota Spaceport in Andhra Pradesh.

The primary payload was India's 1,500-pound Cartosat-2B, a high resolution imaging spacecraft.

Anderson confirmed that the Norwegian mission team had successfully made contact with AISSat following its separation from the rocket.

AIS data is transmitted through a VHF signal and helps identify the ship, its position, course, and speed.

Norway already demonstrated how this information can be picked up in orbit.  NORAIS is a receiver that was installed recently on the International Space Station, and it helps plot the movement of ships around the globe.

NORAIS is part of a project that could eventually lead to a space-AIS solution for all of Europe.

However, Norway is very strict that the AISSat-1 will be keeping watch over its national waters exclusively.

"AISSat-1 is a simple demonstrator," Andersen told BBC News on Monday.

"If it works, it will be put into operation and we may launch new ones, also.

"Right now, it seems everything is working as planned and we will use the next few days to check out its systems. Then we'll turn on the instrument and I expect we'll get the first AIS data quite soon, in one to two weeks."

The Norwegian space minister said at a recent Earth observation symposium that he was hopeful AISSat could develop into an ongoing operational system.

"If this is successful, we will definitely look into doing another one; we will consider that strongly," he told reporters.

The satellite's orbit will be at 372 miles above the Earth and will get a sight of Norway's economic zone every 100 minutes.

The $5.54 million satellite was funded by the Norwegian Space Center.

The University of Toronto, Canada provided the AISSat-1 satellite.  Its payload was developed by Kongsberg Seatex AS in co-operation with the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment (FFI).r


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