Nov 17, 2012

How many Russian Earth observation satellites will be in orbit by 2015?

Estimated Article Reading Time: 4 min.

The launch of the Resurs-P spacecraft was postponed till the first quarter of 2013. This remote sensing satellite was to replace the Resurs-DK №1spacecraft launched in 2006, which has already gone beyond its warranty period. Roskosmos plans to restore the group of remote sensing satellites by 2015-17, but apparently new spacecraft launch dates continue to be postponed.

The press-service of the Federal Space Agency informs that the launch of the Resurs-P remote sensing satellite will be postponed from the end of this year to the first quarter of 2013. According to the report, this decision is the result of additional tests of high-precision star sensors’ photodetectors based on new technology. It was thus decided to improve the devices.

The Resurs-P spacecraft (“P” is an abbreviation of “prospective”) is created at the Progress State Research and Production Space Centre (TsSKB-Progress) in Samara. It is designed for observing the Earth in the visible range of the spectrum. It is planned to place the spacecraft on a near-circular sun-synchronous orbit at an average altitude of about 475 km. In panchromatic range (that is, when observed in all the range of the visible spectrum at once) its resolution will be approximately 1 m; in hyper-spectral mode (when a lot of images are formed in fairly narrow spectral ranges, for the Resource-P it is no less than 96 images) it will be about 3 m. The term of the spacecraft’s service in orbit is 5 years.

The Resurs-P is meant to replace the Resurs-DK, a previous generation spacecraft, which was launched into space in 2006. Now the Resource-DK has already gone beyond its warranty period, and the quality of its pictures has deteriorated, in particular, their resolution has decreased from 1 to 3 m.

Alongside the Resource-P launch, there were plans of placing the geo-stationary Electro-L №2 spacecraft in orbit next year (on the orbital position over the Atlantic Ocean) and also the Resurs-P №2 spacecraft. Mikhail Khailov, head of Roscosmos’ Department of Technical Policy and Quality, shared this information at the opening of the conference Modern problems of remote sensing from space on Monday, November 12. The news of the postponement of the Resource-P №1 launch followed later, and it has not yet been reported in what way this postponement will affect the launch of the second spacecraft of the series.

The report of Mikhail Khailov and Valery Zaichko, adviser of the head of Roscosmos, was devoted to Roskosmos’ plans to deploy the remote sensing satellites group and to prospective developments in this field. Today, the Russian remote sensing satellites group is like a quilt, as it consists of different series spacecrafts, launched into space with intervals of several years.

After the Resource-DK launch in 2009, the hydrometeorological Meteor-M spacecraft was placed on the circular sun-synchronous orbit (its developer is the VNIIEM Corporation). This is an experimental satellite designed for developing new technologies. The Meteor-M №1 operates in the visible, near-infrared and radio ranges. In particular, it is equipped with a multispectral satellite imagery camera that takes pictures with the resolution of 50-70 m. Despite some initial criticism over the work of the Meteor-M, Roscosmos and Roshydromet reached a joint decision to continue this series, and they plan that 4 spacecraft of this type will permanently be in orbit by 2015.

Later, in 2011, the long-awaited Electro-L №1 geo-stationary spacecraft (developed by the Lavochkin Research and Production Association) was placed in orbit over the Indian Ocean. It receives information about cloudiness and underlying surface of the Earth. Now the Elektro-L is under pilot operation. Although the quality of its data gave rise to users’ criticism, Mikhail Khailov is sure that after necessary modifications this series can be continued. After the second unit, due in 2013, it is planned to place the third Elektro-L spacecraft in the orbital position over the Pacific Ocean in 2015. Thus, in 2015 Russia will restore the geo-stationary spacecrafts group at their assigned positions.

The experimental Canopus-B satellite (developed by the VNIIEM Corporation) was also launched last year. It is now undergoing flight and technical tests. Its purpose is to monitor emergency situations, detect forest fires, and monitor agricultural activities and water resources.

According to the results of the tests, the satellite was already considered suitable for work, and this series will be continued. The next Canopuses will be outfitted with new infrared equipment. Their first launch is scheduled for 2015. Finally, after the Resource-P №1 launch, the second and third satellites of this series should be launched in 2013 and 2015 respectively.

These are only the most recent plans of Roscosmos, which do not include the deployment of the Arctic system (observing the Polar Regions), the development of radar satellites and new equipment for prospective satellites. According to Mikhail Khailov, it will take place after 2015, in fact, after the fulfillment of the current Federal Space Program 2006-2015 and the start of the new Program.

Until recently, the Russian space program has suffered from chronic postponements. For the sake of justice, such postponements not only occur in Russia but in other countries, too. However, some systemic problems have added to these postponements. The thing is that about the middle of the “zero” years, the Russian remote sensing satellites’ group ceased to exist in orbit, and it was necessary to restore it, if not from scratch, but from a very, very low starting position.

However, quite recently the same was true for the GLONASS group, which was fully restored by now. Of course, the GLONASS has other primary consumers and other strategic tasks. But we can still hope that the remote sensing satellites group will also be restored, even if it takes more time than it was planned.

Olga Zakutnyaya