Remote Access to Extreme Environments

November 11, 2020 / News

Clean Communication Across the Globe

Never before has the ability to send real-time data across
expansive spaces been more important. In the wake of the pandemic; remote
access to data, and the ability to monitor and control processes from afar, aids
communication across vast distances and makes even the most inhospitable
environments accessible.

Oxford University’s Global Jet Watch astrophysics project
explores how matter behaves in the vicinity of black holes. Five strategically situated
telescopes, separated in longitude around the globe, ensure the team are able
to collect the right dark matter data at any given time of the day.  

global jet watch telescope observatory based in southern india

Global Jet Watch Observatory S India – Photo Credit: Oxford University

At +12° above the
equator, the Global Jet Watch observatory in Southern rural India battles debilitating
humidity and extremely high temperatures (reaching above 40°C in the hot season.)

As the first such observatory to commission remote
observation, it is vital that all of the installed equipment is not only able
to integrate with a control panel thousands of miles away, but also reliably withstand
the rugged conditions.

Thanks to Brainboxes Ethernet to Serial
, as installed in all five of the Global Jet Watch observatories, data
from the telescope in India is cleanly and reliably communicated across the
globe to the University of Oxford’s Department of Physics in the UK.


An Ethernet connection into the control room, secured by
Brainboxes Industrial Ethernet Switches, means that the various diagnostics of
the system health can also be monitored remotely from the University

Where the Global Jet Watch project faces extreme heat, space
weather research conducted by the British Antarctic Survey shows how resilience
can be added to remote data capture systems at the other end of the temperature


Built on a floating ice shelf in the Antarctic, the British
Antarctic Survey’s Halley VI Research Station collects important data to aid in
the study of global problems from climate change and rising sea-levels, to
space weather and the thinning of the ozone layer.  Thanks to an innovative autonomous power
system developed by British Antarctic Survey’s engineers using Brainboxes
Analogue Input modules, the station is able for the first time to remotely
collect measurements all year-round.

With typical winter temperatures falling below -20oC,
extreme lows of -55oC, and 105 days of 24-hour darkness, Halley
Research Station’s location is extremely rugged as well as remote. Due to
concerns over the stability of the Ice Shelf, the decision was made to staff
the station only during summer months.

British antarctic survey halley vi research station situated on snowy plain in antarctica

Halley VI Research Station, Brunt Ice Shelf, Antarctica – Photo Credit: BAS

As the data collected
at the station forms part of long-term climate science models, the challenge
was to develop a system with the ability to reliably power the suite of
scientific instruments year-round. By installing a ground-breaking autonomous
power system with a continuous fuel and data feed, the BAS team have managed to
secure these measurements without the need for people on the ground. As typical
diesel generator technology requires regular monthly maintenance, the BAS
engineers elected to install a Capstone Microturbine Generator. With a 9-month
period between necessary services, the generator is able to run throughout the
winter without requiring maintenance.

This is the first time a Microturbine has ever been used in
Antarctica to power instrumentation autonomously. The suite of equipment
powered by the system includes; meteorological instrumentation that monitors
local weather (such as cloud cover) and longer-term climate, experiments in
space weather and upper atmospheric observations, and a Halogen oxide monitor
to perform tropospheric chemistry. The remote data capture system is also
responsible for the first unmanned measurements collected by the ‘AutoDobson’ –
a fully automated model of the instrument that first discovered the hole in the
ozone layer.

A major challenge in running the system remotely has been
maintaining a continuous supply of fuel to the Microturbine, whilst ensuring a
stable temperature inside its housing. External tanks hold approximately 50m3
of fuel and each day the Microturbine requires around 140 litres to be pumped
in. To ensure correct levels, and closely monitor against fuel spills,
real-time accurate data must be measured and relayed to the BAS network.

Brainboxes Analogue Input modules (ED-549) are used to
monitor the fuel tank level sensors, current sensors on the pumps, pump
pressure sensors – both in and out – and also to measure the fuel flow.  Fuel data, levels, pressures and valve
positions are all then logged in InfluxDB – an open-source database developed
by InfluxData that provides real-time storage and retrieval of data. To
visualise historic data, Grafana – a multi-platform open source analytics and
interactive visualization web application – allows the BAS engineers to create
a complex monitoring dashboard.

The Halley Automation Project aimed to add resilience to the
data capture system, whilst simultaneously testing the Microturbine as a proof
of concept for future power supply to automated scientific instruments. It has
now been successfully running for almost 2 years with the added economic and
environmental benefit that the autonomous winter season now consumes only
around 10% of the fuel burned through the same manned period.


The ability to reliably send usable data across any distance
without the constraints of lengthy cabling optimises any environment. Whether in
remote locations with extreme conditions, or within the walls of a factory or
logistics warehouse, the same principles and technology apply.

RS Components have a Global Next Day Delivery Guarantee
which leads to the shipping of approximately one order every second. Any
downtime in their warehouse would negatively affect this service, making it
vital that faults anywhere on the 5 miles of production line are reported in
real-time to the supervisor’s office situated over half a mile away.

By installing Brainboxes Remote I/O Modules to the panel, RS
are able to send usable data concerning the cranes’ processes, productivity,
and faults to screens across the vast warehouse, into the supervisor’s office,
and onto a mobile app. Not only does this make vital information accessible to
every team member, but analysis of the data allows RS to identify trends in
productivity and adjust their processes accordingly.