Navigating the North

Satellites in the new European navigation system Galileo. Illustration: ESA

Like most other countries, Norway uses satellite navigation for transport and trade. Satellite navigation is especially important in relation to maritime activities, which are very extensive in Norway. Far out at sea and in Polar areas there are no other landmarks for navigation and positioning and this makes satellite navigation especially important.

The oil and gas industry was quick to start using satellite navigation in the North Sea. Positioning became even more exact using corrections from reference stations in known positions. Norway started to use such differential GPSs early on. The oil and gas companies map and monitor the sea floor and the resources that lie beneath it. All such activity requires accurate positioning from navigation satellites.

Satellite navigation is also used in other offshore operations, for example when drilling, when large floating platforms are to be anchored, during diving operations and when supply ships and tankers come alongside or operate in the vicinity of oil installations.

A European System for Satellite Navigation

At present, the US GPS system and the Russian Glonass systems are used for satellite navigation. The European satellite navigation system Galileo is planned to start initial services in 2016 and be fully operational by 2020. Galileo and GPS together will give greater accuracy, better availability and better coverage. These things are important for many users.

Applications that demand extremely high accuracy and reliability, such as systems for planes and helicopters, will be able to use both GPS and Galileo simultaneously. Such applications must be able to warn the user if performance is unsatisfactory. It will be possible to use the Galileo system in many areas that have nothing to do with transport or traffic.

The Galileo satellites are equipped with very accurate atomic clocks and can thus indicate both position and time with extremely high accuracy. Among other things, this can be utilised in management and control systems for the power industry, internet and digital communications, broadcasting and time stamping of financial transactions. In a high-tech society there are many applications for super-accurate time and position information.

Norway and Galileo

Because of our extensive coastline, large sea areas and demanding climate, the use of satellites is especially valuable for Norway. Among other uses, we employ them for Earth observation, communications, transport and for managing our resources. Satellite navigation plays an important role in these areas.

In earlier plans for Galileo, there was a good chance that its performance would not be as good in Northern latitudes. A Norwegian simulation of various satellite orbits showed that an alternative placement would give much better coverage in the North and would also be advantageous for users elsewhere. Norway's view held sway and this solution is now being implemented.

Norway also contributes with strategically important ground stations in Svalbard, on Jan Mayen and in the Antarctic. With increased activity in the High North and in Antarctica, there is no doubt that the navigations satellites will be very useful for Norway.