AGEOS: ISRO Braves -89°C to Control Satellites from Antarctic Outpost

From Tropical Bengaluru to Icy Larsemann Hills - ISRO Runs Mission Control in Deep Freeze.

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Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany with manufacturing units in Russia. He is Consulting Editor Industry and Defense at Frontier India.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) operates a remote control centre located in Antarctica’s unique and distant area, specifically at Bharati Station.

This station stands out from ISRO’s usual locations in Bengaluru and Hyderabad, as it is situated in a region where winter temperatures can plummet to -89 degrees Celsius and summer temperatures hover around -25 degrees Celsius.

The AGEOS (Antarctica Ground Station for Earth Observation Satellites) was inaugurated at Bharati Station in the Larsemann Hills in August 2013. This facility can accommodate up to 72 people during the summer season.

This station plays a key role in ISRO’s network for gathering data, improving satellite connections (particularly for satellites in polar orbits), and enabling real data reception and processing. It supports various Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) satellites, such as the CARTOSAT-2 series, SCATSAT-1, and RESOURCESAT-2/2A. The data collected is then smoothly relayed to the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) in Shadnagar, near Hyderabad. This forms a vital connection in India’s Earth Observation (EO) missions.

Why Antarctica?

The station’s strategic location offers a distinct benefit, enabling as many as ten satellite observation passes daily. This ensures extensive coverage essential for various fields such as agriculture, water resource management, urban planning, disaster response, and more.

“10 satellite observations” refers to the ability of the ground station to communicate with or receive data from satellites passing overhead up to 10 times in a single day. Each “pass” is when a satellite moves within the range of the ground station’s equipment, allowing for data transmission or reception. This frequent contact helps monitor environmental changes, manage natural resources, or observe weather patterns.

The placement of the ground station in Antarctica is intentional due to its proximity to the South Pole. This location provides enhanced visibility and data collection from satellites in polar orbits, allowing for up to 10 satellite passes daily.

Satellites travelling in polar orbits circle the Earth and cross over the poles several times daily. Because they are closer to the orbit paths of the satellites, ground stations in Antarctica, near the South Pole, have higher signal reception efficiency. Comparing this geographic advantage to stations located at higher latitudes enables more efficient data collection. High latitude is found at or above 60° magnetic latitude.

The higher number of satellite passes enhances the ability of the ground station to gather important data, which is essential for multiple areas such as agriculture, water resource management, urban development, and disaster response.

What Other Functions Does AGEOS Perform?

The advanced S/X/Ka antenna system at AGEOS is crucial for ISRO’s remote sensing missions, boosting India’s proficiency in this field.

Using a tri-band system distinguishes ISRO from other international space agencies or organizations, placing it in its own unique category.

This means that ISRO’s adoption of a three-frequency band (S/X/Ka) system for its antennas at AGEOS sets it apart from other space agencies, which may not use such a comprehensive approach. Each frequency band has different characteristics and applications, so using all three allows ISRO to cover a wider range of remote sensing and communication capabilities, thus enhancing its status and capabilities in the global space community.

• The S-band is utilized for communication with spacecraft, weather radar, and other mobile communications, including mobile phones and WiFi.

•. The X band is primarily used for radar applications, satellite communication, space telemetry, and radar-based weather monitoring and defence systems.

• The Ka-band is used for high-capacity satellite communications, high-resolution radar, space research, and increasingly for high-speed satellite internet services.

Operated by a dedicated group of ISRO engineers based at Bharati, this station guarantees uninterrupted functioning, playing a major role in the achievements of ISRO’s remote sensing missions.

As the number of launches and satellites in orbit grows, this facility is becoming increasingly important, especially given the limited number of ground stations available. It is also used for tracking launches conducted using the PSLV via its antennas.

AGEOS, while primarily aiding ISRO’s remote sensing missions, also includes a C-Band station located at the National Centre for Antarctica & Ocean Research (NCAOR) in Goa, India. This station functions as a specialized communication channel, enabling continuous operations. It supports essential services such as video conferencing, live streaming, and web browsing.

India has initiated a contract for a sophisticated Ka-band satellite link, greatly improving connectivity and facilitating satellite internet services with high data transfer capabilities. The immense importance of this project is underscored by its key role in the forthcoming NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) space mission, a joint venture between Indian and American scientists. This mission will collect vast amounts of data on subtle variations in ice sheets and increasing sea levels, essential for comprehending the effects of global warming. The expected data volume from this mission is predicted to exceed an enormous 80 terabytes daily, a load that the Ka-band satellite link will manage.

Besides its main roles, this station also significantly assists India’s scientific community in researching at Maitri, another Indian research facility in Antarctica. This extensive infrastructure and network connectivity showcase India’s dedication to pursuing scientific discovery and progress, even in the world’s harshest and most remote parts.

Moreover, the recent installation of the Ka-band system at Bharati station boosts India’s remote sensing abilities and enhances the connection with Maitri, India’s other station at the South Pole, through reliable internet. This represents a major step forward in communication and scientific cooperation between the remote icy expanses of Antarctica and mainland India.


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