Tracking Chile’s Ring of Fire via Satellite

Comtech’s advanced VSAT network passes 10-year milestone in critical seismic data delivery.

The people of Chile live on the Ring of Fire, one of the most seismically dangerous places on the planet. The 25,000-mile-long stretch of volatile Earth surrounds the Pacific Ocean where unstable tectonic plates deep beneath the surface cause about 90% of the world’s earthquakes and most of its volcanic eruptions.

The country has experienced 13 major quakes of 7.0 or higher on the Richter scale in the last 50 years. It was the massive 8.8-magnitude earthquake in 2010 that accelerated Chile’s plans to deploy modern state-of-the-art systems capable of tracking seismic activity more effectively and sharing critical data in real time with researchers around the world.

As a result, the National Seismological Center was born, and in 2013 the organization deployed an intelligent satellite-based ground network developed and configured by Comtech to help officials better monitor the unstable region.

The fully redundant VSAT system allows scientists at geographically dispersed Network Operations Centers (NOCs) in the Capital city of Santiago and 400 miles away in the town of Temuco to remotely track continuous data on tremors, quakes, and potential threats of tsunamis.

If a fierce storm, earthquake, equipment failure, power glitch, or other event should cause an outage at one NOC, the other center would automatically come online immediately, with the Comtech VSAT platform providing the communications redundancy and connectivity across the data network.

Chile Upgrades with Comtech
While officials briefly considered other offerings in the market, ultimately the decision came down to the Comtech team and expertise, its advanced VSAT technologies, and impeccable record of uptime in an environment full of big challenges.

Satellite is the backbone of the Comtech VSAT-based network supporting the National Seismological Center (NSC), and it has never failed. It has provided a decade of proven, continuous critical data connectivity in an area prone to outages.

Based on the success of the resilient and robust legacy platform, the Chilean Government, the NSC, and the University of Chile recently signed an agreement with Comtech to bring its next-generation ground system capabilities to the operation.

The upgrade will allow researchers to glean far more insights from the network of sensors installed at and near many of the sources of the Earth’s movement along the Chilean coastline and the country’s isolated mountainous region.

The goal is to provide enhanced predictability to the inherently unpredictable science and study of earthquakes, with new and historical seismic data that allows researchers to piece events together like a complex puzzle that ultimately reveals patterns and seismological forecasts.

Part of the hub upgrades involved a significant reduction in the amount of equipment required to run the network, which means far fewer potential points of failure at the NOCs and the dozens of remote sites.

The advanced network management system allows scientists at the NOC to store new and historical data, better analyze and understand both the network operation itself and the data and insights it’s delivering through improved dashboard graphics and visualization capabilities such as charts and high-definition displays.

No one can predict earthquakes, but existing fault lines and past earthquakes provide key information about future events, such as how the ground shakes during a tremor or major disruption.

Going Straight to the Source for Game-Changing Data
Comtech’s advanced VSAT ground system provides two-way links between 65 sensor-based nodes, 130 Global Navigation Satellite Systems, and the two NOCs, where the data is stored, and can be analyzed and shared in real time.

Many of the sensors and the rugged Comtech modems, which enable constant network connectivity and data delivery, are installed inside the mouths of volcanoes, atop mountains, and deep underneath the Earth’s surface. Energy sources are scarce in most locations.

The VSAT system gear must function using little power around the clock for years in some of the harshest conditions found anywhere on the planet. Many of the VSAT hub sites run on battery banks fed by solar panels, while others within range of the grid are powered by electricity with a battery backup.

Technicians at the dual operations centers can keep an eye on the health of the equipment across the vast network of nodes, greatly improving preventative maintenance and reducing onsite visits and costs.

There’s no longer a need for technical teams to travel to 65 remote node sites to check on the status of the gear. The two-way satellite-based network provides real-time information about wear and tear and upcoming maintenance requirements, which will keep the system running optimally and well within warranty parameters.

Unmatched Redundancies and Efficiencies
Should one network operations center experience downtime in the face of an earthquake, fierce winds, or storms, the other NOC, faraway from those conditions, would immediately step in as a backup to the mission-critical research and public safety operation.

The advanced network features smart or end-to-end redundancy, where any number of units within the hub can back up multiple units or devices. The spare units are pooled and held in hot standby mode – ready for immediate activation when needed.

That end-to-end redundancy is one of several added benefits across the upgraded system, including extra wave forms, and adaptive coding and modulation in the TDMA carrier, which drive better OPEX and availability of the network.

That ultimately means far better bandwidth efficiency – where the Chilean Government and the University of Chile can get more insights and details from new and historic seismic events delivered over the network using far less satellite capacity and cost.

That’s great news for researchers and scientists around the globe who are piecing together lessons learned and seismic patterns in Chile and beyond that could have a major impact on communities around the world.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), for example, is among many agencies and groups leveraging the Comtech network in Chile as part of a regional and global effort to enhance public safety and early warning capabilities ahead of earthquakes, tsunamis, and other natural occurrences caused by seismic events. The USGS uses the most current data and state-of-the-art forecasting models and methods to create an up-to-date National Seismic Hazard Model.

The overall analyses inform a broad range of use cases, from guiding the engineering design of structures capable of withstanding certain levels of shaking during quake episodes to helping to determine earthquake insurance rates.

Data from Chile’s NSC has played a role in new structural guidelines for homes and businesses along the Pacific coastlines of countries in North and South America and beyond.

Much like Earth observation from space, the Comtech VSAT network in Chile provides a unique ground-level view into the seismic triggers and trends beneath the towns, cities, states, and countries along the Ring of Fire and fault lines in virtually every corner of the globe.

The Chilean coastline offers unique geographic challenges as the country considers leveraging Comtech’s Terrestrial and Wireless technologies and One Comtech companywide collaborative approach to enable a national disaster warning system.

We welcome this latest engagement with the Chilean Government as it looks to expand on the proven satellite-based ground system to deliver more data and ultimately more actionable insights that help keep people safer and better informed in communities living with the risks of earthquakes and the threats they pose every day.

Forward-Looking Statements
Certain information in this blog post contains statements that are forward-looking in nature and involve certain significant risks and uncertainties. Actual results and performance could differ materially from such forward-looking information. The Company’s Securities and Exchange Commission filings identify many such risks and uncertainties. Any forward-looking information in this press release is qualified in its entirety by the risks and uncertainties described in such Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

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