Maritime vessels larger than 300 GT are required to carry Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponders, which give vessel name, position, speed, course and cargo to neighbouring vessels and to the shore-based AIS network operated by the Norwegian Coastal Administration. AIS improves the safety of life at sea by frequently broadcasting updated traffic information to neighbouring vessels and to the authorities.
AIS messages will, however, only be received if vessels are within 40 NM of the AIS network, leaving large Norwegian ocean areas without AIS coverage. This reduces the ability to obtain a reliable overview of the maritime vessel traffic, particularly in the high North.
"Norway was one of the first countries to establish a full shore-based AIS network," says Terje Wahl, Chief Scientist at the Norwegian Space Centre. "It is therefore a natural development to also study the prospects for broadening the AIS coverage through a space-based AIS."
Studies have been initiated by the Space Centre over the last year to investigate the prospects for building a Norwegian AIS satellite. Last fall the Norwegian government issued a broad strategy for the high North where one recommendation is to pursue the space-based AIS initiative.
Space-based AIS is now entering a new phase with the goal to develop a low cost satellite design for an experimental AIS satellite. This design phase will be terminated at the end of 2007.
Norwegian and Canadian development
The AIS payload will receive and decode AIS information from the maritime vessels. During the second half of 2007 the Trondheim-based company, Kongsberg Seatex, will develop a prototype of the AIS receiver based on the company's leading position in AIS technology.
"Norway has been a leading nation in satellite based earth observation for a long time, and Norwegian industry is in the forefront of the AIS technology development," says Terje Wahl.
The space group at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment - FFI, has been asked to lead this study and to develop plans for the project. Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace Company (KDA) will be involved with payload fabrication and product assurance. The payload development and the project planning receive funding support both from the Space Centre and from the participating institutions.
A Canadian satellite platform design will be adjusted to carry the Norwegian AIS receiver. The platform will be designed and eventually manufactured and tested by the University of Toronto Space Flight Laboratory. The satellite dimensions will 20 x 20 x 20 cm.
"Modern technology has made it possible to build very small and capable satellites, which reduces the launch cost considerably," says Terje Wahl at the Norwegian Space Centre.
The road ahead
The design phase will be terminated at the end of 2007. Norwegian authorities will by then have to decide whether or not to proceed with the manufacturing and launch of the first Norwegian maritime observation satellite.
A launch will eventually take place in the 2009 - 2010 time frame. The commissioning and early test and experimentation phase will take about half a year, after which the Coastal Administration, the Directorate of Fisheries, the Coast Guard and other Norwegian authorities can start their evaluation of a new wide area supplement to the coastal AIS network.