Research facility bound for Antarctica undergoes trial assembly in Scotland

Image credit: Kyle Marshall

A complete trial assembly of a specialist air communications tower for a British Antarctic research station has been undertaken in Kintore.

It comes ahead of its shipment to Antarctica later this month (December), where it will form part of the new ‘world class’ Rothera Research Station.

Forming part of the Discovery Building at the facility, the communications tower will be the station’s main communication hub with air-ground communications and monitoring of air traffic.

British Antarctic Survey (BAS) described the trial assembly at Kintore as ‘unusual and complex’, with eGroup carrying out the works.

BAS forms part of the Antarctic Infrastructure Modernisation Partnership (AIMP), which is working on upgrading old Antarctic buildings for future generations of polar scientists.

The partnership includes construction partner, BAM; design consultants, Sweco; and Hugh Broughton Architects providing delivery design.

The assembly included installation of both primary and secondary steel with the aim to coordinate design of the steelwork with the stairwell and curtain walling, which would allow for a non-structural outer envelope to keep the weather out and people in.

The work also resulted in minor adjustments being made to the primary steelworks as one of the beams was identified as reducing headroom on the stairwell. Corrections were also made to the alignment of the secondary steel, as well as an installation risk with the non-curtain walling clashing with the lifting points being rectified.

The octagonal-shaped structure provides operators with a full 360-degree view of the station and aircraft, which is described as a ‘vital’ component to the success of the modernisation of the station.

Following the trial assembly, the facility was flat packed and delivered to BAM’s packing facility at Teesport. The roof membrane was then laid and an access hatch installed by AJ Engineering.

A non-slip membrane was also applied and fixing points for the railing that will run along the perimeter of the roof, allowing operators to access the aerials to be installed on the roof.

BAS explained that prefabricating the roof structure of the facility in a controlled environment in the UK ensures that the roof is finished to the required quality and will ‘significantly’ reduce the resource time on site.

Image credit: Dave Brand

Thinking Space Systems Ltd was selected by BAM to supply the furniture for the station, following their involvement in the manufacture of the control room console at the Halley VI Research Station.

The same will be supplied at Rothera, with BAS explaining that the purpose of the console is to provide appropriate desk space for operators whilst also housing the front-end communications equipment and monitors to manage air traffic and communications with teams operating across the Antarctic.

It added that the ‘bespoke’ item has been designed ‘ergonomically’ and is specifically for users who will often be spending long shifts working in the tower managing air control for the station and the busy runway. Spanning six meters in total with four workstations, the control room will be installed over five sides of the octagonal tower – giving users ‘uninterrupted’ views of the runway and most of the Antarctic station.

BAM project manager, Maurice Siemensma, said, “BAM’s ‘build-it-before you build it’ approach has involved design and building the structure virtually using 3D modelling, then completion of trial assembly in Scotland prior to actual construction in Antarctica.

“It has provided the team with the opportunity to make some small improvements to the structure and curtain wall glazing system, that means we can take greater assurance the structure will be installed without difficulty or delays on Station. Once in Antarctica, it is impossible to make any changes.”

Rothera modernisation senior project manager, David Brand, added, “The completion of the trial assembly in the UK shows the best of the AIMP construction partnership. Being able to work hand-in-hand with BAM and its supply chain throughout the design, pre-fabrication and developing the construction methodologies gives BAS the assurance that every effort has been directed to ensuring we get the quality the Discovery Building so deserves.

“It has been a huge team effort but one that we are sure will reap significant benefits for BAS and the polar science community.”