Norway Considers Second Ship-tracking Satellite

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Norway’s space minister on June 28 urged other European governments not to bow to the temptation to cut research spending amid the current wave of belt-tightening and said Norway, whose first ship-tracking satellite is scheduled for launch in July, is considering a second one as well.

Norwegian Trade and Industry Minister Trond Giske conceded that with an annual space budget of about 100 million euros ($126 million), Norway is not a major player among the 18 member governments of the European Space Agency. But he said Norway’s space sector generates revenue of about 650 million euros per year.

Just as important, the Norwegian sovereign-wealth fund, filled with revenue from Norway’s offshore oil production, has permitted the nation to avoid the debt crisis now afflicting many European governments, forcing budget cutbacks.

“I am not sure that space-based research is the strongest lobbying force in Europe,” Giske said during a June 29 press briefing. “We need to keep up investment in long-term research, which may lose out to short-term thinking” in the debt crisis.

Norway’s Kongsberg Group has developed an Automatic Identification System (AIS) terminal for space-based maritime traffic monitoring using Norwegian technology. A demonstration AIS receiver placed on the exterior shell of the international space station earlier this year has validated the technology, and a similar terminal is scheduled for launch in July on Norway’s AISSat-1 spacecraft.

The 6-kilogram AISSat-1 will be one of several co-passengers on an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle rocket.

Bo Andersen, director-general of the Norwegian Space Centre, said the entire AISSat-1 project cost about 4.4 million euros. Unlike commercial AIS systems being developed by Com Dev of Canada, Orbcomm of the United States and others, Norway’s AISSat program is designed only to survey traffic in Norwegian territorial waters and the immediate vicinity. One or two small spaceborne terminals, he said, will suffice for Norway’s needs.

“This is a great application [for space technology] that is opening,” Giske said of AIS. “If AISSat-1 is successful, we definitely will look at a second one.”

Andersen said Norwegian authorities will benchmark their AISSat-1 performance against the data provided by Com Dev on that company’s technology. He said Norway is in discussions with the European Space Agency on a possible broadening of the AIS effort as part of a European program.