Connecting from the Arctic Circle

  • Published
  • By Ashley George, Public Affairs Chief
  • Space Base Delta 1 Public Affairs

Calling family members, sending emails, and downloading games and entertainment are a part of most peoples’ daily life. However, until recently, personnel at Thule Air Base, Greenland, could not easily enjoy those luxuries due to a slow and intermittent commercial internet connection.

Thule AB is the northernmost U.S. military installation, situated roughly 1,000 miles from the North Pole. It is a small installation, with a 500-person community made up of military, Danish, and Greenlandic members, and no roads to surrounding villages.

As one can imagine, access to the internet is vital to the morale of all those living at Thule – that is why Space Base Delta 1 and the 821st Space Base Group made upgrading the connection a priority.

In June, the 821st SBG was successful in upgrading their commercial internet by accessing Low Earth Orbit satellites, thanks in large part to the Air Force Research Laboratory.

“Today, with LEO connectivity, the men and women living at this outpost are enjoying video conferencing, streaming, and even interactive games,” said Dr. Brian Beal, Air Force Research Laboratory principal aerospace engineer. “The Thule LEO network was designed, integrated and installed by Hughes engineers using capacity from the OneWeb constellation, which spans four antennas and delivers almost 14 terabits of data per month. More than half of the OneWeb satellites are already in orbit, delivering full coverage of the northern regions spanning the Arctic, Alaska, Greenland and the U.K..”

This upgrade was highly anticipated. Due to limited commercial connectivity, not only did Thule members have issues talking to loved ones back home, but actions such as taking online classes and updating personal devices proved near impossible at times.

“Incoming folks rely on their devices for various means of life, so when they get here and the internet doesn’t work, it can be a hard hit,” said Lt. Col. Gavin Brost, 821st Support Squadron commander.

Living on Thule takes ingenuity, as some months are spent in complete darkness, while other months are spent in constant daylight. Also, the average temperature during winter is -12 degrees Fahrenheit and the nearest village is 60 miles away… by dog sled. Establishing commercial internet capability was not an easy undertaking, but well worth the outcome.

“There are logistical challenges of getting material up here, such as our weather, short-port season, and environmental considerations. But, AFRL made it happen and I think everyone here is extremely grateful,” said Tech. Sgt. Vanessa Alonzo, 821st Support Squadron Cyber Systems noncommissioned officer in charge.

The 821st Support Squadron set up two cyber cafés where members can enjoy a multitude of online activities and build camaraderie. Members also now have the ability to bring their own devices to the café, where connectivity is the fastest, to download content for their game consoles and cell phones.

“Overall this has improved the quality of life for not only our members living here, but for their families back in the states,” said Brost. “Connectivity is something we all take for granted… until you don’t have it.”

For more information on Thule AB, visit here and for more information on Air Force Research Laboratory’s success stories in space, visit here.