Britain mulls Antarctic link for Falklands communications and satellite pictures
Britain is thinking about putting a satellite receiving station in Antarctica that would obtain pictures of the region from outer space. The primary application of such pictures would be scientific. For example, they would provide data about mineral resources or help to monitor the buildup of ice.
But the information from the heavens could also be useful in any future defense of the Falkland Islands against a further incursion by Argentina.
The snapshots from space would come from Western Europe's remote-sensing satellite, ERS-1, which is due to enter orbit in 1987.
The vehicle will scan ocean areas with radar instruments to provide such information as the height of waves, the movement of icebergs and ships, and general meteorological patterns.
The European Space Agency, a ''club'' of composed of 11 West European nations , is now developing the craft at a cost of (STR)200 million (about $300 million).
Receiving antennas in these 11 countries will tune into the spacecraft to receive data relating to the Northern Hemisphere.
In particular, Sweden, France, West Germany, and Italy, as well as Britain, are likely to site aerials on their own territories.
But the spacecraft will not include a big enough electronic memory to store data relating to the Southern Hemisphere, even though the vehicle will be collecting images from that part of the world as it sweeps over it at an altitude of several hundred kilometers.
This has annoyed scientists, who say Western Europe may be missing a golden opportunity to obtain a lot of interesting information. And it has led civil servants at Britain's Department of Trade and Industry to consider the plan for the Antarctic region, where the country has several research bases.
David Drewry of the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge says that an earth station in the region would add enormously to scientists' understanding of the area.
The earth station, with computers that would process the raw data from the satellite into intelligible information, could be sited at one of several research bases on the Antarctic land mass. Halley Bay is one possible location.
Alternatively, the hardware could go to the Falkland Islands or Georgia.
These sites would be preferable from a military point of view. Britain's Ministry of Defense is interested in the proposal. Radar images from space would help it to pinpoint Argentine ship movements that could herald another invasion of the Falkland Islands.
Furthermore, locating the earth station on the Falklands could play a part in strengthening the islands' overall security. Satellite images, mainly passed on to Britain from US ''spy satellites,'' played an important part in last year's Falklands war.
Although scientists would probably operate the station, any images of interest from a military standpoint could be passed to defense officials.
According to one proposal, the earth station would be small and mobile so it could be taken from place to place by ship.
Another possibility is that West Germany, which also has a research base in Antarctica, could share with Britain the (STR)3 million to (STR)15 million that the ground station would cost.
Civil servants will probably decide on the plan within the next year.