Following The Scott Expedition through Antarctica: The Customized Satellite Project Worthy of a South Pole Adventure

Captain Scott writing in his journal in the Winterquarters hut, 7 October 1911. Image courtesy of The Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI).

Captain Scott’s Last Expedition—also known as the fateful Terra Nova Expedition—is a tragic but legendary part of Antarctic history. In 1912, along with his team of four brave men, Scott lost his life in a battle against the cold, isolated wilderness of the Antarctic while attempting to hike to the South Pole and back on foot. Scott and his men are iconic figures in exploratory history; from biographers to Boy Scouts, passionate historians and adventure enthusiasts alike have reveled in the amazing feat that was attempted by the brave Terra Nova explorers so many years ago.

Captain Scott writing in his journal in the Winterquarters hut, 7 October 1911. Image courtesy of The Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI).
Captain Scott writing in his journal in the Winterquarters hut, 7 October 1911. Image courtesy of The Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI).

To this day, Scott’s 1,800-mile return journey to the South Pole has never been completed. But starting this October, British adventurers Ben Saunders and Tarka L’Herpiniere set out on foot to complete what the original Scott Expedition explorers lost their lives fighting for. Saunders and L’Herpiniere’s four-month, unsupported return journey from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole and back will follow Scott’s exact route, honoring the Captain’s legacy, showcasing incredible physical endurance, and proving that—with the right knowledge and skills—anything is possible. Thanks to these two brave 21st century explorers and their support team, the next chapter in Captain Scott’s historic story will be written more than 100 years after it began.

The original dome is shown on the left; on the right is a customized, lightweight piece used in the finished Pilot.
The original dome is shown on the left; on the right is a customized, lightweight piece used in the finished Pilot.

In an effort to allow the world to share in the experience of the Scott Expedition, Saunders and L’Herpiniere have taken on the ambitious task of sharing their progress live via real-time blog posts. The success of those communications hinges on a customized version of Iridium’s satellite antenna array dome, known as the Pilot™ connected to a Sony Vaio Pro ultrabook using Intel’s latest 4th Generation technology. The Pilot™ provides mobile solutions that reach across oceans and through airways for a myriad of maritime, government, emergency, and transportation agencies.

Once Iridium learned of the need to customize the Pilot™, to make it practical for Saunders and L’Herpiniere to hike with it across the Antarctic, they recommended the Team contact the product development and engineering firm responsible for the original Pilot™: Porticos. The Iridium recommendation recognizes a long-standing relationship between the two companies that has resulted in many products, including the satellite phone known as the Extreme™, which is also being used by the Scott Expedition Team during their trek.

The overall goal of this customization project was to reduce the weight of the unit as much as possible, from 11.8kg to no more than 6kg. By re-engineering the main ADE components, Porticos engineers were able to reduce the overall weight by 55%, bringing the total weight down to approximately 5.3kg.

Porticos Engineer Mike Kiplinger testing the customized device.
Porticos Engineer Mike Kiplinger testing the customized device.

The drastic weight reduction was not the only difficult aspect of this project; Porticos engineers were asked to meet a tight project schedule that accommodated the crew’s hard launch deadline. Not only did Porticos meet the deadline, but our engineers also customized the necessary parts, did the assembly, and tested the unit extensively in the total system to ensure it would function properly during the expedition.

To this day, there is a monument in Antarctica dedicated to the memory of those brave original explorers. High on Observation Hill, a 754-foot hill adjacent to Antarctica’s McMurdo Station, is a large wooden cross that was erected by the carpenters of the Terra Nova in 1913. The carpenters inscribed the cross with the names of the lost party and with Tennyson’s line from his poem Ulysses: “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” The now-legendary Captain Scott and his crew never completed their ill-fated expedition in 1912. But in 2013, two men and their team members hope to extend our imagination for what’s possible, to close one of the greatest chapters in polar exploration, and to not yield.

For more about The Scott Expedition: 

One thought on “Following The Scott Expedition through Antarctica: The Customized Satellite Project Worthy of a South Pole Adventure

Comments are closed.