Satellites to track ‘invisible’ ships | Polarjournal
The NorSat-3 microsatellite will be launched into space with a radar warning system during 2020. The satellite was developed at the Norwegian Defence Research Facility. (Photo: UTIAS/SFL)

Norway is working with the United States to develop satellites to survey Norwegian waters. The satellites will be able to find ships that try not to be seen. The NorSat 3 mission aims to better monitor Norwegian and adjacent maritime areas with an experimental ship navigation radar detector (NRD) in addition to the AIS receiver.

Illustration of the NorSat-3 microsatellite (Photo: UTIAS/SFL)

Norsat-3 is a surveillance satellite developed by Norway and the U.S. military to detect ships using a radar system instead of sent position signals (AIS). Norsat-3 will be launched from French Guyana and is expected to reach its first operational capability in early 2021. The new satellite will support both the Norwegian Coast Guard and the Norwegian military.

Unlike previous Norwegian surveillance satellites, the new satellite no longer relies on receivingAISsignals from ships to detect them. Usually, AIS provides information about the identity, position and course of the ships, but ships can swith it off or simply falsify the information sent.

The Norwegian Coast Guard will significantly strengthen ship monitoring in Norway when the new NorSat-3 satellite enters orbit. (Photo: Kystverket)

The satellite is stationed at an altitude of 600 km and will cover about 15 passes per 24 hours. The orbits often are close to the North Pole, typically at 82 degrees north. Consequently, ships north of 75 degrees north, which is just south of Svalbard, can be detected. Similarly, the North Cape is visible for 12 consecutive passes per 24 hours. Areas further south are flown over 10-11 times.

Illustration of the NorSat-3 concept (Graphic: UTIAS/SFL)

New Skills

The new satellite will thus be able to track down ships that are actively trying not to be seen, states info channel Norwaytoday. “Each type of instrument contributes with slightly different images, so the more technologies we have, the more complete the image becomes,” explains research leader Richard Olsen of the Norwegian Defence Research Institute (FFI) to the media.

If all goes according to plan, another more sophisticated satellite, NORSAT-4, will be launched in 2022.

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

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