In September 2002 Computerworld reported that Raytheon Polar Services, a contractor to the US National Science Foundation, had called for expressions of interest in building a fibre-optic cable from the research station to a point 1700km further north in Antarctica where it would connect with satellite links, replacing the base’s existing satellite-only link.
The project was estimated to be worth $US250 million and would bring faster connections to the station, which is expected to be generating 30Gb of data a day by 2010.
A “South Pole connectivity industry day briefing” was held in 2002 and was attended by vendors including Alcatel and General Dynamics, but US National Science Foundation spokesman Sean Kearns told Computerworld last week that “the prospect remains under consideration as a possible means to enhance communications capabilities at the South Pole, but beyond that there is nothing new to report”.
The tender documents noted existing satellite-only links comprised “aging satellites in deteriorating geosynchronous orbits which can only offer limited communications between the continental US and the South Pole station”.
The answer, the NSF believed, was “a trans-Antarctic fibre-optic cable from the South Pole station to the joint French-Italian Concordia station, located considerably further north”, with a bi-directional link at Concordia to a satellite linking the Antarctic to the continental US.
New Zealander Bill Day, chief executive of undersea cable layer Seaworks, told Computerworld in 2002 that laying a fibre-optic cable across Antarctica’s shifting ice would be “extremely difficult, but anything’s feasible if you’re prepared to throw $US250 million at it.
“You can’t get a ship to do the job, so you’d be limited by the amount of cable you could carry.
“You’d need to do joins and there are issues with joining glass at those temperatures and with metal hardening.”
In November 2002 University of Maine professor Gordon Hamilton, who is involved with the project, told Computerworld 15 responses had been received to the tender, some from joint ventures and some from consulting companies.
He declined to name them but said “some of the big players in satellite and fibre communications are amongst the respondents”.