Selecting a "Technology-of-the-Year" for the June 2002 Yearbook edition of Maritime Reporter & Engineering News was no small task, and a decidedly unscientific one, at that. There were no editorial boards, voting slips, gala dinners or plaques. Simply put, the editors of MR/EN arrived on Satellite Communications technology as the centerpiece of its largest edition based on observation, discussion and analysis of the companies that have develop, supply, test and purchase the products and services that fall under its broad category.Words alone cannot summarize the technological revolution that has swept the world during the past decades. Consider for a moment a world without the Internet, e-mail or seamless, high-capacity communication links. Consumers of information expect perpetual evolution toward better, faster and cheaper.
The marine business is often depicted as conservative sometimes deservedly so. But it is less conservative than outside observers and inside experts think, rather judicious in its approach to investment. There are, in essence, two ways to place new equipment and services onboard a ship:  Legislative mandate, or  Irrefutable proof that it can provide operational efficiencies and cost savings. When vessel owners find something they like, something that works, they stick with it, as attested to by the continuing popularity of Inmarsat A, the original satellite communication solution employed by mariners, introduced to the market more than 20 years ago and still widely used today.
But technologies, particularly in the area of computerization and communication, have a relatively short shelf life, as increased speed, reliability and capability, coupled with reduced costs, effectively creates an atmosphere of constant change. That next-generation leap is here today, in the form of Inmarsat's new Fleet F77 product.
But this article is about far more than a new product from Inmarsat, which was described in great detail in the March 2002 edition of Maritime Reporter & Engineering News ("Fleet F77 Extends Inmarsat
's Offerings", pg. 46, March 2002). In all walks of the marine business — commercial shallow and deep draft, research, as well as military and government — the emphasis on information and communication capabilities is paramount.
Inmarsat Put to the Test
The introduction of Inmarsat's Fleet F77, Mobile ISDN and Mobile Packet Data services for the maritime community might initially be passed off by the uninitiated as simply another way for a the satcom companies to make money. But the Fleet F77 product is revolutionary in many respects, and will serve as the inaugural member of a burgeoning family of satellite communication products for the future, according to Robert Johnson, Inmarsat's Director of Maritime Services. Fleet F77 went commercially "live" on March 28.
In order to work out as many glitches as possible prior to commercial launch, Inmarsat recruited the services of three vessels, two containerships and the Research Vessel Maurice Ewing.
Johnson said that two containerships were selected because of the nature of their trading patterns allowed for the system to be tested in many different weather conditions and satcom environs. The Ewing is unique in that, as a research vessel, it too often finds itself in remote and otherwise communication challenging positions.
Onboard R/V Maurice Ewing
R/V Maurice Ewing is a Research Vessel operated by Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO), traversing the globe to conduct scientific experiments in conjunction with researchers from across the country and around the globe. LDEO prides itself as being on the leading edge of seismological research since Maurice Ewing founded the Observatory in 1949. When MR/EN recently visited with the LDEO shoreside team at its facility just north of New York City, the vessel was coming into Guam, having recently completed a survey of the Marianas Trench — the deepest point known on earth — and preparing to head out to Dutch Harbor, Alaska.
Almost as interesting as the Fleet F77 test aboard R/V Maurice Ewing is the story on the vessel itself. The R/V Maurice Ewing is a 230-ft.(70.1-m), 1,978-gt research vessel which is owned by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and operated by LDEO. The acquisition of the vessel, which was originally designed for use by Petro Canada as a seismic ship, illustrated a high degree of business savvy and luck by the staff of LDEO.
“Back in the mid-1980's, we needed a new vessel to replace the R/V Conrad built in 1962,” said Paul Ljunggren, Marine Superintendent, LDEO, “This ship was up for sale.” What followed was an entrepreneurial endeavor that is not so common in the halls of academia, and resulted in the R/V Maurice Ewing being the only large research vessel owned by the NSF.
The Trustees of Columbia University were convinced to submit a bid for purchase of the vessel for little more than $6 million. Having won the bid, a proposal was submitted to the NSF for refit of the vessel in order to ensure the ship had the full range of capabilities necessary to support general oceanographic research. After completion of the modifications at a New Orleans shipyard the NSF assumed title of the R/V Maurice Ewing and reimbursed Columbia for the costs of acquisition.
The modifications included hull mounted 3.5 and 12 khz transducers and a Hydrosweep swath bottom mapping system. The Hydrosweep DS that was installed in 1989-90 during the conversion was capable of a producing 59 beams over a 90 degree swath and at that time was a revolutionary improvement over the state of the art 16 beam/ 45 degree swath system. Over the last year, the original Hydrosweep DS was upgraded to a DS-2 which is capable of producing 140 beams over a 120 degree swath.
In addition over the side sampling capabilities were added which included 15 MT SWL starboard and stern A-frames serving four winches carrying 10,000 m of 9/16-in. 3 x 19,0.68-in. coaxial cable, 0.322 in. CTD wire, or ¼-in. 3 x 19 wire.
Particularly unique to the academic research vessel are the Maurice Ewing's extensive geophysical capabilities which include a Syntrak 480-24 seismic recording system with a 6 km hydrophone streamer cable and a 2,000 psi, 20 air gun 8,300 cubic inch tuned sound source array as well as a portable high resolution system with 2 GI guns and an ITI streamer cable.
“The replacement cost for the vessel today is $75 million, so it represents quite a good deal in the end," said John B. Diebold, Research Scientist, Marine Science Coordinator R/V Maurice Ewing. The ship is classed by the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) as A-1 Ice Class C0 and Coast Guard inspected; certificated to carry a total of 50 personnel of which approximately 20 are the ship's crew. With a cruising speed of 11 knots and an endurance of up to 60 days the Maurice Ewing has operated from the Arctic to the Antarctic in all the world's oceans.
Without question, the Ewing team interviewed regard increased and improved communication capabilities as a cornerstone allowing them to accomplish their research in a more efficient and beneficial manner.
"In science, the ability to communicate and send data is critical," said Diebold. “With the complexity of hardware and software onboard, it (Fleet F77) allows much better support in real time. For example, shoreside computer support can install patches to software anytime.”
Diebold also noted that on a personal level, the ability to communicate on a daily basis is a major benefit to crew and scientists. Having started his seagoing career in 1967, well before regular contact with ships at sea was cost effective or practical, he should know.
Conversely, Captain Mark Landow, who leads Maurice Ewing for five months per year, sometimes too much information from home can have the reverse effect, making shipboard crew and researchers concerned about situations they cannot care for immediately. “For some people it can increase homesickness, by knowing too much about what's going on” The ship, according Ljunggren , has dramatically been able to increase its information transmissions while maintaining its costs in the 12 years the vessel has been with LDEO.
“Data rates have increased about five fold, but the cost for satellite time is roughly half" of what they used to be,” said Ljunggren. We probably send 10 times as much information today as we did 10 years ago, but our bills have stayed relatively stable, due in large part to periodic upgrades in ship earth stations (INMARSAT A -> INMARSAT B -> Inmarsat Fleet
F77), substantially improved modems and streamlined protocols.
Aside from the collection and transmission of hard scientific data, LDEO has found many uses for the increased information capacity, using the services to handle all purchasing from the ship; to handle personnel, pay and travel issues, as well as logistical elements leading into a port call. We also transfer drafts of research papers and books authored by personnel who spend part of their working year at sea. "We've even had final exams sent out there," said Diebold, who noted that, otherwise, a student with a exam conflict might not be able to go aboard for research.
For its peaceful purpose, R/V Maurice Ewing has had its share of adventures in the past 12 months. Eighteen miles off Somalia in August 2001 the vessel was the target of a piracy attack. The ship was collecting data on the water column at a series of stations in the Gulf of Aden which had been occupied earlier in the year by a ship from Woods Hole. Oceanographic instruments were in the water when a small boat, that appeared to be towed by a fishing boat, broke away and headed for the Ewing. Though the ship was not boarded and no injuries occurred, having RPG's and AK-47 rounds shot in their direction gave scientists and crew alike real cause for concern. Then, on September 11, the vessel was just heading into Djibouti, in the Gulf of Aden, with Ljunggren and Diebold arriving by plane that day. “We debarked the science party, and the ship proceeded immediately to the Seychelles Islands, before continuing our operating schedule across the Indian Ocean to Australia.”
LDEO volunteered to have the new Inmarsat Fleet F77 product tested onboard its vessel, noting that academia is always seeking to “take the next step,” and it seemed natural given the ever increasing demands for information flow. In general, the LDEO team
had nothing but rave reviews for the new Fleet F77 product, service and test experience. Of particular note was the lighter antenna as compared to the A and B products, which adds flexibility in placing the unit onboard the ship. They also noted the high professionalism of the INMARSAT team for Maritime Fleet Evaluations, which coordinated the successful set up the full system, all bells and whistles included, and was ready with a solution in the event a problem should occur. The Maritime Fleet Evaluations were conducted with a Thrane and Thrane Fleet F77 using the Santa Paula Land Earth Station in the Pacific Region, via Telenor Satellite Services, Inc. This project brought together INMARSAT, Telenor Satellite Services, Thrane and Thrane, and Columbia University.
"We don't need all of the extras, such as full-time access or web surfing," though we'll have to assess the cost (of full time connectivity) versus our current operating mode, said Diebold. A few major advantages noted by the shoreside team included the efficiency in sending information via the Mobile Packet Data solution, and the strength of signal regardless of location. “Fleet F77 allows for more frequent connection, and the connections seemed more robust and reliable," said Diebold. He explained that strong connectivity is of particular importance, particularly when sending larger batches of information. Previously the ship had problems with batch failure, or the loss of a link during the transmission of information. Not only did the process have to be re-run, but communication charges were incurred for the original, failed exercise. In particularly high traffic areas such as the Indian Ocean, where communications can be difficult due to the high volume, the Maurice Ewing team reported that "as a test, the engineer sent information on the Indian Ocean satellite from Guam ... which is quite a test ... and it worked well." In summation of the Inmarsat Fleet F77 experience, Ljunggren simply said "there are no downsides ... I think it is a big step ahead."
Collect & Conquer
The advent of the information age is not the exclusive domain of commercial and scientific shipping, with the armed forces being a major impetus for change and improvement. As reported in the April 2002 edition of MR/EN ("NWDC: The Ultimate One-Stop Shop", page 24, April 2002), the Naval Warfare Development Command (NWDC) in Newport, RI, is at the forefront of testing, among other things, how communication technologies - the collection, dissemination, analysis and use of information - will reshape the way the armed forces wage battle in the future. Specifically, NWDC is engaged currently in the evaluation of smaller, faster, cheaper ships that are not required to carry a full complement of technological gadgetry, rather "plugging in" to a network in order to help accomplish a mission. Termed the Expeditionary Sensor Grid, the system will allow vessels to penetrate and successfully complete its mission without carrying an enormous quantity of equipment.