One of R/V Falkor’s most useful tools is internet access made possible by a satellite connection. High above Falkor’s decks are two prominent white domes, which house the satellite antennas that enable internet at sea. The antennas are part of a unit known as VSAT – a Very Small Aperture Terminal

How does VSAT work?

R/V Falkor’s VSAT is a pair of two-way stabilized maritime antennas with a dish antenna (the “very small” aspect is because the dish is smaller than 3 meters).The dishes are enclosed in the fiberglass domes to protect them from ocean conditions while still allowing the antenna to transmit and receive. Falkor uses a Seatel 97 series marine stabilized antenna system on C Band, the original frequency allocation for communications satellites. C-band is typically used by ships that traverse the oceans regularly, requiring uninterrupted and dedicated connectivity as they move from region to region.

Falkor’s VLAN system can:

  • Maximize the speed and efficiency of applications over the network with traffic-shaping/ WAN optimization technologies
    Automatic report delivery and real-time monitoring
    Private, secure VPN tunnel between ship and shore
    Live acquisition to SOI Website and science sensors in real time

How do the VSATs access satellites?

VSATs access satellites in geosynchronous orbit to relay data – this means the satellite orbits Earth at the same speed as the planet is turning, enabling the satellite to stay in place over a single location. Since a ship at sea shifts with the ocean’s movement, the antenna needs to be stabilized. Using a combination of GPS sensors and gyroscopes, a motorized system controls the azimuth, elevation, and skew of the antenna, so that it will be constantly pointing at the satellite it uses to transmit and receive signals.

As line of sight connection is very important for connectivity, nothing can be in the way of the satellite and the VSAT. Out on the open sea, this is rarely an issue. Normally Falkor will never have a “shadow area,” but occasionally some of the courses affect the dish and the satellite. When that happens, the advantage of having two antenna kicks in – an Arbitrator moves the connection from one antenna to another, tracking the satellites and keeping the connection.

How is bandwidth distributed on Falkor?

To distribute bandwidth, Schmidt Ocean Institute has set up over 15 Virtual Local Area Networks (VLAN) for different devices and users to access. A VLAN is a system that is partitioned and isolated in a computer network at the data link layer. This means there are different segments dedicated to different missions, each with allocations and protocols to interpret supply/demand of bandwidth. With a limited amount of bandwidth, management is incredibly important. The system is smart as well, giving priority not just based on which VLAN you are connected to but your credentials and where you are. When a video presentation occurs on board, the network orchestrator detects the location and knows to allocate bandwidth appropriately.

Internet Specifications:

  • VSAT System, two antennas
  • Seatel 97 series
  • Operating on C Band

Video Router & Streaming Specifications:

  • 64 Port HD Digital Matrix enable video routing from 64 sources to 64 Monitors
  • Internal streaming to Android and IOS devices
  • Modulation over ATSC (Advanced Television Systems Committee) to any TV or projector on Falkor
  • Customizable layout for all outputs depending on cruise objectives
  • Two encoders for live streaming from any of the video router sources
  • Conference room to broadcast presentation and support for video conference calls