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SvalSat: space technology in the Arctic

SvalSat is short for Sval­bard satel­litts­tas­jon = Sval­bard satel­li­te base. This is the name for a lar­ge coll­ec­tion of huge anten­nas on Pla­tå­ber­get, a table-shaped moun­tain next to Lon­gye­ar­by­en. What you can see from a distance is a clus­ter of huge sphe­res, which are wea­ther pro­tec­tion for the actu­al dish-shaped anten­nas insi­de. SvalSat was foun­ded in 1997 and it is run by Kong­sberg Satel­li­te Ser­vices AS (short: KSAT).

SvalSat: satel­li­te tech­no­lo­gy in the Arc­tic

Such anten­nas are nee­ded clo­se to the poles to estab­lish cont­act to satel­li­tes in polar orbits. Data are sent from SvalSat to the satel­li­tes to con­trol them and data are sent from the satel­li­tes to SvalSat: main­ly user data which are for­ward to cus­to­mers any­whe­re in the world, inclu­ding NASA and ESA but also com­pa­nies like Iri­di­um and pro­jects such as Gali­leo. Navi­ga­ti­on and com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on, sci­en­ti­fic data, wea­ther … the who­le ran­ge of jobs done by satel­li­te the­se days. It is not reve­a­led if this includes mili­ta­ry acti­vi­ties. Use of per­ma­nent faci­li­ties in Sval­bard for mili­ta­ry ser­vices is excluded by the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty, so this would at least be con­tro­ver­si­al.


SvalSat: satel­li­te anten­nas on Pla­tå­berg clo­se to Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The two-way data traf­fic ser­vies satel­li­te con­trol and data retre­aval.

2004: cable con­nec­tion to the main­land

In order to mana­ge the huge data volu­me which needs to be pro­ces­sed in real time, a twin glass fib­re cable was laid on the sea flo­or from Lon­gye­ar­by­en to Har­stad (Ves­terå­len, main­land Nor­way) in 2004. A red­un­dant twin cable struc­tu­re was cho­sen becau­se of the sen­si­ti­vi­ty of the data traf­fic, which also ser­ves the sett­le­ments of Spits­ber­gen sin­ce then. A loss of data con­nec­tion would have dra­stic con­se­quen­ces local­ly, but might also have glo­bal impli­ca­ti­ons. In Janu­ary 2022, one of the two cables was dama­ged, remin­ding ever­y­bo­dy of the sen­si­ti­ve cha­rac­ter of this type of infra­struc­tu­re.


Ent­rance to SvalSat’s main buil­ding. Cus­to­mers iunclude NASA, ESA, Iri­di­um and other orga­ni­sa­ti­ons of glo­bal importance.

Con­nec­ting Spits­ber­gen: from sai­ling ships to deep sea cables

The cable con­nec­tion makes ear­lier means of com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on obso­le­te: initi­al­ly, ships were nee­ded to trans­port mes­sa­ges bet­ween Spits­ber­gen and the rest of the world. In 1911, the situa­ti­on was great­ly impro­ved when the wire­less tele­graph sta­ti­on on Fin­nes­et south of Barents­burg (which didn’t exist back then) was built. But for many years, mes­sa­ges had to be car­ri­ed by boat or dog sledge bet­ween Fin­nes­et and the other sett­le­ments. Later, this was done by radio-delay sys­tems instal­led on moun­ta­ins bet­ween the sett­le­ments and the main radio sta­ti­on (Isfjord Radio at Kapp Lin­né on the west coast for many years during the 20th cen­tu­ry).


SvalSat in 2009, when it was still much smal­ler than today.

SvalSat: growth, jobs and sen­si­ti­ve tech­no­lo­gy

But back to Pla­tå­berg. SvalSat has grown con­sider­a­b­ly over the years. By now (2022), the num­ber of anten­nas amounts to some­thing clo­se to 100, and KSAT has around 40 local employees. The­re is a road from SvalSat to Lon­gye­ar­by­en (con­nec­ting to the road just east of the air­port), but it is clo­sed for public traf­fic.

The SvalSat area its­elf is actual­ly not clo­se to non-moto­ri­sed public traf­fic. If you hap­pen to hike in that area, then you may pass through. It is also allo­wed to take pho­to­graphs out­side, but it is not neces­s­a­ri­ly popu­lar and if you spend too much time taking pic­tures then you may well be approa­ched by someone for a litt­le chat. The inte­ri­or is clo­sed to the public, and if you hap­pen to get access, then it will most­ly not be allo­wed to take pic­tures.

Pho­to gal­lery SvalSat

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.



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last modification: 2022-01-11 · copyright: Rolf Stange