Mission Critical Solutions? Let’s Talk Mission Extreme Solutions…

Estimated reading time: 12 minute(s)


Zetron recently announced the award of a new ACOM Command & Control system for the Australian government. I know, so what, Zetron’s been in Australia doing public sector business for years, so why is this interesting?

Glad you asked.

What’s interesting about this specific ACOM system is that it will provide integrated radio communications to and between the country’s research stations across Antarctica. That’s right, while we don’t commonly equate the two in terms of relative climate, on the map Antarctica is just a couple fingers away from the southern-most frozen continent and Australia’s Department of the Environment and Energy maintains multiple permanent stations that are inhabited year-round by Australian scientists, expeditioners, and visitors.

Not an expert on Antarctica? Few are, other than knowing it’s the big content on the bottom of the globe that’s typically and appropriately white in color.

A few fun facts about that big white land mass

(Source: LiveScience)

  • Bring your skates – 99% of Antarctica is covered by ice
  • Brrrrr – The coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth was -128.56 degrees on July 21, 1983 in Antarctica
  • Hold onto your hat – It’s the windiest continent in the world, with gusts reaching up to 200 mph (320 km/h) in some places
  • That’s a lot of ice axing to do some lake fishing – There are more than 200 liquid lakes on Antarctica, all buried beneath approximately 2.5 miles (3.7 kilometers) of ice
  • Dads of the Year – The male Emperor penguin is the only warm-blooded animal that remains on Antarctica (other than humans) through the winter – staying to nest on the single egg laid by its mate while the female spends nine weeks at sea and returns for the egg to hatch

A challenging communications landscape

Probably needless to say, Antarctic conditions are extreme. Understatement alert. In fact, the climate and conditions actually limit access to the Australian stations maintained there to the southern hemisphere’s summer season, which is typically between October and March. So nearly all flights and sea voyages to transport people and resupply the stations are made only during those months.

Also needless to say, communications between the government’s head offices in Australia and its stations in Antarctica are critical, yet can be precarious, a dangerous combination for sure.

The ACOM system selected by the Australian government after a competitive bid process will replace legacy communications consoles at a head office in Hobart on the southern-most tip of Australia, a station on Macquarie Island in the Southern Ocean between the two continents, and at the Casey, Davis, and Mawson stations, all located along the northern and western coast lines of Antarctica.

ACOM Command & Control will serve as the new integrated communications system linking the operations, people, and over 3300 assets Australia maintains across all locations. The dangerous climate and terrain make Antarctica operations extremely high risk to those working there and any downtime in communications can be disastrous, so replacing the antiquated radio consoles in place was identified as a priority.

Chris Reade, from Melbourne-based Zetron partner AA Radio that won the Australian Antarctica contract, noted in a recent press release that in addition to the harsh climate and terrain, the Australian teams on Antarctica face a myriad of other challenges the new mission critical communications system has to overcome, including space limitations, the multiple heterogeneous radio technologies in use, the often present and severe audio decibel interference that accompanies the climate, coverage limitations, and the harsh treatment all equipment and systems must endure given the conditions. It’s a lot to ask of an integrated communications system.

It’s not just penguins that thrive in extreme conditions

There’s obviously a lot to providing integrated communications in this part of the world. But sophisticated, complex, and/or challenging environments have always been where ACOM Command and Control systems have thrived.

For Zetron the award means we now have mission critical solutions at work on all seven continents of the world, not a bad feather for the cap. But really we’re just honored and excited to have been selected for this highly important task and to have the opportunity to work with our partner AA Radio and the Australian government to conquer one of the most extreme communications challenges on Earth.

Just like the male Emperor penguin, we’re ready to weather the storm…and just maybe look forward to summer a little bit too.

By: Jim Shulkin

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