Inmarsat, a provider of global mobile satellite communication services, says it supported the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) team during Operation Deep Freeze 2016 while on board the U.S. Coast Guard’s Heavy Icebreaker Polar Star.
According to the company, Polar Star’s primary mission during Operation Deep Freeze was to break a channel through the sea ice for ships to resupply the McMurdo Research Station in the Ross Sea. The Polar Star cleared ice obstructions up to 15 feet thick to open up a “superhighway” for an oil tanker and a supply ship so that the ships could get to and from McMurdo Station to deliver fuel, food and other supplies.
NOAA’s primary role involved collecting and transmitting data, images and video from Puma All Environment (AE), a hand-launched, 13.5-pound unmanned aircraft system that can fly for more than 210 minutes at a time, at a maximum range of approximately 12 miles. The NOAA team relied on Inmarsat’s satellite communications for constant connectivity.
NOAA used the Puma AE to “scout” ahead of the Polar Star’s path, collecting data and images to deliver real-time information about the potential for treacherous conditions. Inmarsat says that without its communication services, the Puma crew’s capability for operating would have been limited due to the lack of reliable communications with air traffic controllers, and the dissemination of the data would have been limited to personnel aboard the ship. Additionally, there would have not been a way for the ice and weather forecasters to send and receive the images taken from satellites in space.
“The unmanned aircraft observational images and data provide a real-time capability that is critical for tactical use. Having high-resolution imaging can make our ice forecasting more accurate by providing ‘ground truth’ and validating the forecasts. The objective is to be able to tell the crew exactly where the ice is and how thick it is in order to help the Coast Guard navigate the ship safely and efficiently,” explains Todd Jacobs, a project scientist at the NOAA Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program and the deputy superintendent for operations and administration of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.