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Space Norway plots recovery mission for failed subsea cable

Space Norway said Jan. 13 it expects to start repairing next month one of two undersea fiber-optic cables it operates between its Svalbard satellite station and mainland Norway, after a failure left the Arctic region without a backup connection.

Investigations are continuing into the extent and cause of the damage that occurred Jan. 7, said Space Norway’s head of infrastructure Dag Stølan.

He said the timing for a repair mission depends on weather and the availability of a cable vessel to fix the issue.

“This failure does not in any way change the ability to communicate effectively with Svalbard in the same manner as before, but it represents a temporary lack of redundancy,” Stølan said.

State-run Space Norway, which is part of the country’s space agency, uses the two cables to provide broadband services to Svalbard.

The cables are critical for connecting around 100 ground stations on the archipelago operated by KSAT, which Space Norway half owns.

Low-Earth-orbit constellation operator OneWeb, Tokyo-based debris-removal startup Astroscale and others rely on the ground stations to contact spacecraft that fly above the region.

KSAT head of communications Nina Soleng said connectivity services remain nominal through the other subsea cable that Space Norway operates, which runs nearly parallel some five to 10 kilometers away on the seabed, “meaning there is no service disruption at our ground station due to this.”

She added via email: “Measures have been taken to secure the operational segment of the fibre cable by increased operational awareness/priorities and restrictions to any work/changes on this segment or related infrastructure.”

Undersea tremors, anchors trailing from ships, and other non-malicious causes have been known to sever undersea cables.

However, Svalbard’s geopolitical importance and growing tensions in the region have prompted media speculation that Russia might be involved in the subsea cable’s failure, although there is no evidence to suggest this.

Norway’s Ministry of Justice and Public Security said Jan. 9 it is following the situation closely.

The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory last year contracted OneWeb to demo managed satellite communications services in strategic Arctic locations, using gateways including the operator’s site in Svalbard.

SpaceX is slated to launch two satellites for Space Norway late this year, with payloads for the U.S. Air Force, Norwegian Ministry of Defense and British satellite operator Inmarsat.

Northrop Grumman is building the satellites for Space Norway’s Arctic Satellite Broadband Mission (ASBM), which aims to enable broadband connectivity from highly elliptical orbits, at latitudes beyond the reach of geostationary satellites.

According to the parties involved, ASBM aims to provide communications for rescue operations, fisheries, energy sector customers and other applications.

KSAT, meanwhile, has been rapidly installing antennas worldwide to meet rising demand from small satellites and constellation operators. Space News

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