Key milestones toward safety and modernization reached
Major construction projects to improve the electrical generating capacity and communications links at the National Science Foundation's Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station were completed this month, despite extreme weather conditions in Antarctica that have hampered cargo flights.
The new power plant, which went online on January 20, will increase the station's peak generating capacity to one megawatt of electrical energy, while providing three levels of backup redundancy. On January 18, meanwhile, personnel at the station, conducted a successful test of a new satellite ground station. Employees of Raytheon Polar Services Company, NSF's logistical contractor in Antarctica, worked closely with a number of government agencies and sub-contractors to achieve these successes.
"These projects help set the stage for future generations of world-class scientific research at the South Pole," said Karl Erb, who heads the U.S. Antarctic Program. "The advantages of the polar environment for research into the origins of the universe, as well as for studies of the ozone hole and a number of other topics of global importance, far outweigh the difficulties of working in this hostile environment."
The Pole's isolation and extreme environment make an adequate and stable power source and reliable communications crucial to safety. Because aircraft cannot land at Pole for eight months of the year, the station is in some respects more like an observatory operating on the moon than on earth.
The nine-meter satellite dish will connect the Pole with the commercial MARISAT- F2 and NSF's GOES-3 satellites. The system will transfer the large quantities of scientific data gathered each day in the year-round work at the South Pole, back to universities and laboratories in the U.S., for analysis. The new capability will supplement coverage provided by NASA and U.S. Air Force satellites.
The new telecommunications link will increase the number of hours that the station can communicate with the world outside Antarctica and double the available communications bandwidth. In addition to advancing the research these capabilities will help in mitigating any medical emergencies at the station during the winter months.
Apart from final testing, the transfer of generating capability to the new power plant completes a multi-year environmental and safety upgrade of existing facilities which also includes construction of new fuel storage, garage, and shop facilities.
The environmental and communications upgrades respond to recommendations made in 1997 by an independent panel Chaired by Norman Augustine. The panel recommended that the U.S. invest in the safety and environmental upgrades and the subsequent reconstruction of the 25-year-old station for important scientific and geopolitical reasons. "The U.S. would not send a ship to sea or a spacecraft to orbit in the condition of some of the facilities in Antarctica, particularly the one at the South Pole," noted the report "The United States in Antarctica."
The station reconstruction project builds on the now completed environmental and safety upgrades. It began last season with the erection of a tower linking the sub-surface fuel storage, garage and shop facilities to the elevated sections of the planned new station. The elevated sections will contain housing, food service and laboratory spaces and will be completed over the next five years.
For more information on the U.S. Antarctic Program and Amundsen Scott South Pole Station, see: http://www.