PACTOR in the land of ice
In the extreme cold regions of the earth one is thankful for every connection to civilisation. With the help of the geologist and Ham Dominik Weiel more and more Russian science stations are now using PACTOR as a reliable communication system.
PACTOR in the land of ice
The Vostock Team in Antarctica
Some people like the really cold and icy regions of our planet. Dominik Weiel, DL5EBE, is one of them. The 37 year old geologist worked for many years in polar science and joined numerous expeditions to both the Arctic and Antarctica. He has worked on polar stations and on icebreakers and has realized that communication is one of the biggest problems out in the cold wilderness.
Expeditions to the ice are Dominiks passion.
When he was 13 years old, long before his time as a scientist, he already had his HAM license. He found that short-wave radio was the medium to stay in contact with the outside world, in remote places like the icecaps. Nowadays he is working in Germany again and uses short-wave radio to stay in contact with the ice stations. As a QSL-manager he accompanies some HAMs through the dark winters at the icecaps and for some time worked as an editor for CQ DL, the German HAM magazine.
Dominik Weiel (middle) with Russian HAMs onboard AKADEMIK FEDOROV.
The PACTOR protocol is well known to the radio amateur. For Dominik, PACTOR had its greatest moment on the German-Russian KABAEX expedition to the Siberian Arctic. During the preparation for the trip, Dominik had already asked the Russian government for a permit to use his amateur radio, because the expedition would also cross military restricted areas. This proved to be very helpful, Dominik says, „During the expedition we suddenly had to manage incredible logistic problems and without my radio station we would have been completely lost. Every night, I had a contact with DL6LAU in Kiel, Germany on 7 MHz to give our current reports and news. If propagation was good, I could easily transmit the files via PACTOR.“
On expeditions to Antarctica short wave radio often is the only link to civilisation.
Because of the international corporation the geologist got to know quite a few Russian polar stations and realised that the conditions regarding communication with homeland and the supply ship were totally insufficient. One can easily figure, that a link to civilisation is extremely important in those inhospitable parts of the world. Medical help, information and logistic problems are of great value, but also the mere contact with people, especially your own family.
The station Bellinghausen will be the first PMBO in Antarctica.
As Inmarsat showed to be unreliable, the stations now increase their communication traffic via short wave radio. On account of his positive experiences, Dominik tries hard to bring PACTOR to the attention of the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI) in St. Petersburg. The advantages are obvious; the PACTOR signal can still be easily transmitted, if the communication via voice mode fails. Two stations have piloted this project in the Antarctica and been supplied with modems from SCS. The first reports are very positive. Not only Dominik is interested in keeping in contact with the HAMs in the ice. A whole group of HAMs created the "Worldwide Antarctica Program" (WAP) and actively supports these projects. For example, the station Bellinghausen, R1ANF, on King George Island now has a new antenna device such as a 3 ele. SteppIR Beam and a heavy duty Alfaspidrotator. Due to this improvement, the station can now stay in contact with the supply ship, until it gets to its homeport of St. Petersburg. Next year a permanent internet link, via satellite, is going to be set up. Thus, making it possible to install a regular gateway for the worldwide HAM network Winlink, the first PMBO in Antarctica.
The station Vostok, R1ANC, lies at the coldest point of the earth.
The second modem is exposed to even more extreme conditions. It was brought into action at the Vostok station, R1ANC, which is situated on the Antarctic plateau at a height of 3000 m. Temperatures down to -80°C have been recorded on Vostok. Whoever stays there, like the Russian HAM Aleksej, during the dark, long winter is pleased about every message that comes through. Dominik looks after the Russian, UA1PAC. As his QSL-manager he knows about his communication problems. In the first winter, in 2002 he says, „At that time, communication was miserable. Aleksej couldn't even send his logs to me. But this year he used PACTOR for the first time. In this way he could almost daily make contact with his family, which made the lack of necessities much easier to cope with.“
The sun is not always shining at the poles and the antarctic winter can be very long.
The positive experiences with PACTOR were soon well known. The crew that followed, on Vostok, already set sail on the AKADEMIK FEDOROV with a PTC-IIex on board. On her way to Antarctica, the icebreaker stopped at Bremerhaven. One reason was to meet Dominik Weiel, who was to explain the PACTOR system to Aleksej Turkeev, UA1ZCK, the HAM of the expedition. Once more one could experience how much Dominik cares for these men. Because of installation problems with the radio equipment on board, he decided to leave his own device, including antenna, on the AKADEMIK FEDOROV. „I know that I will get my equipment back after the expedition. Lending my radio gives me the good feeling to be sure, that the crew will have a working system in this extreme environment.“, he says.
The AKADEMIK FEDOROV on her way to the ice, with PACTOR onboard.
The meteorologists have also thought about transmitting their data via the PACTOR. Costly satellite systems burden the budget. Alan Cheshire, VK0LD, from Australia will set up an automatic PACTOR link between the multinational "Patriot Hills Base" and the ALE Office in Punta Arenas (Chile) this Arctic summer. The link will be used to transmit weather data every 15 minutes, for the sometimes very intensive air traffic. Dominik is positive that this experiment will also gain interest with other expeditions and that in the future more and more data will be transmitted by the good, old short-wave radio.
In the arctic summer air traffic can be quite intense, also here PACTOR is in action.
These are only a few of some very exciting expeditions that can be followed by short wave radio. If you are interested in the HAM activities of the extreme North and South, please find more information at http://www.waponline.it/ where the WAP reports about actual events in detail.
By Nathalie Müller, KD7SVT
January 2006, Island Koh Phuket, Thailand