Svalbard Satellite Station – Svalbard and Jan Mayen - Atlas Obscura

Svalbard and Jan Mayen

Svalbard Satellite Station

This Norwegian satellite station provides ground services to more satellites than any other facility in the world. 

Svalbard Satellite Station (known as SvalSat) is located on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard in the Arctic Ocean, about halfway between continental Norway and the North Pole. The station provides ground support to satellites in orbit.

The Satellite station features 31 antenna systems and is known to be the largest commercial ground station in the world. In 1997, SvalSat was created by the Norwegian Space Centre but is now run by Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT). Today, the station serves a range of customers.

It’s an important part of NASA’s ground infrastructure and forms part of the Near Earth Network. The European Space Agency (ESA) has dish antennas at the station, which will receive data from the Earth observation missions of the Galileo and Copernicus satellites. Other notable clients include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Thanks to its high-latitude location, Svalbard Satellite Station can receive information from every polar-orbiting satellite above 310 miles, on every revolution as the earth rotates within its orbital plane. When they pass over head, the station downloads all the data via a line-of-sight connection. Most of the station’s antennas can receive data for only about 15 minutes before the fast-moving satellites pass by, but each polar-orbiting satellite makes 14 passes each day.

 

Know Before You Go

The facility itself is situated on the Platåberget mountain plateau, which ranges from 1,300 to 1,600 feet above sea level. There are currently 31 antenna systems, each typically separated from the next by about 660 feet to prevent interference. It's a strange, almost otherworldly sight, especially when the entire plateau is covered in snow, at which point, Star Wars fans could quite easily imagine themselves on Hoth, just without the AT-ATs.


SvalSat is about 3.25 miles from the town of Longyearbyen. The two are connected by a private road. When avalanches and landslides force the road to close, helicopters are used to transport staff to and from the facility. SvalSat is not typically open to the public, and any potential visits would have to be arranged in advance. You can contact KSAT via its contact page.

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