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U.S. Coast Guard Installs Ground Station at Academy for Polar Scout Project


USCG installs ground station for Polar Scout Project

The Coast Guard Research and Development Center (RDC) and members of the Coast Guard Academy work with a construction crew to install a ground station on top of Smith Hall at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, Dec. 12, 2018. The ground station is part of the Polar Scout Project; it will communicate with two CubeSats launched into space by the RDC and Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Lauren Laughlin.

The Coast Guard successfully launched two Cube Satellites (CubeSats) into space Dec. 3, 2018, as part of its Polar Scout Project. On Dec. 14, the Research and Development Center (RDC) completed another critical step of the project – installing a ground station at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. It is the second ground station that has been constructed by the RDC; the first ground station – located in Fairbanks, Alaska – became operational in spring 2018.

The latest ground station is located on top of Smith Hall at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. Smith Hall – the home of the Science Department – is optimally placed to allow for a very wide view of the sky which is critical to allow the antenna to track the satellites as they orbit overhead.

The design is based on a standard architecture developed at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. “The ground stations primarily consist of a 3- meter parabolic dish antenna that is motorized and controllable to allow it to track satellites passing overhead,” said Lt. Cmdr. Grant Wyman, assistant branch chief of the Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance branch at the RDC. “To protect the antenna and attached radio communications equipment, the ground site is covered by an 18-foot-diameter spherical fiberglass radome.” A radome is a structural weatherproof enclosure that is made from material transparent to radio waves. Additional communications, computer and network gear will be placed in an equipment rack located inside Smith Hall. 

While the satellites out in space get the most attention, the ground stations are the unsung heroes of the Polar Scout Project. “The ground stations are essential to all satellite operations such as downlinking telemetry data to determine overall spacecraft health, keeping orbital parameters up to date and sending general control commands,” Wyman said. The ground stations will also play an integral role in tests and demonstrations planned from early 2019 through the summer. They will be used to downlink 406 MHz emergency distress beacon data from the CubeSats. The knowledge gained from these demonstrations will be used to test and evaluate the viability of using satellites for Coast Guard missions.

Beyond the Polar Scout Project, the ground station at the Coast Guard Academy will continue to provide benefits to the RDC as well as the Academy as it can be used for communications to spacecraft other than those involved in the project. Cadets at the Coast Guard Academy will benefit from the ground station as more space technology and concepts are introduced into the curriculum for multiple academic programs. It will support future education and research for years to come after the current Polar Scout Project concludes. One day, the cadets may even be able to use the ground station to communicate with satellites that they build and launch themselves.

For more information: Research and Development Center program page and Research, Development, Test and Evaluation program page