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Outside View: Arctic satellite balance

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Yury Zaitsev
Moscow (UPI) Dec 26, 2007
Russian space industry experts are currently discussing the concept of a federal program to use the results of space research to aid national socioeconomic development.

The program envisions using a new satellite cluster, called "Arktika," to monitor weather conditions in the polar regions. President Vladimir Putin, who advocates the program, learned more about the new orbital system during his recent visit to the Lavochkin Research and Production Association -- NPO -- near Moscow.

Anatoly Perminov, director of the Federal Space Agency, Roskosmos, said Arctic research was highly important. In the last 15 years the national aerospace environmental monitoring system for the Arctic has virtually ceased to exist. The lack of authentic and up-to-date regional information makes it impossible to compile accurate weather forecasts for northern Russia and the world.

Major errors in statistical weather forecasts can be explained by initial data discrepancies. Most initial weather data for the Arctic regions comes from international geostationary satellites, which cannot effectively scan the Earth's high latitudes. Their angles of observation do not exceed 70 degrees, meaning they cannot effectively observe higher than 60 degrees of latitude north.

Nor are geostationary-satellite communications channels able to receive complete data from Arctic buoys and automatic weather stations. The Lavochkin NPO proposes to solve these problems by developing the highly elliptical weather-satellite system that would provide a picture of Arctic conditions.

Perminov first mentioned the project at the MAKS-2007 aerospace show, held in the town of Zhukovsky near Moscow in August. He said four satellites would be enough to scan the entire Arctic, primarily the oil-and-gas shelf, all the way to the North Pole, and that the new system would help develop new territories and create comfortable living conditions.

However, Arktika satellites would mostly provide weather data, namely, polar wind speed and direction, cloud cover, precipitation and ice-floe parameters, in latitudes above 60 degrees north.

Perminov said the World Meteorological Organization -- WMO -- had already expressed support for the project and that Arktika-M satellites would feature optical systems. The Arktika-R satellites will carry radars, indispensable during polar nights, and the Arktika-MS telecommunications satellites will handle telephone communications and relay television and FM radio broadcasts to aircraft and ships in northern Russia and other polar countries.

According to Perminov, the new Arctic satellite cluster, which will be based on already operational remote-sensing weather and telecommunications satellites, will also receive radio signals from the COSPAS-SARSAT international search and rescue -- SAR -- system. There are plans to use Navigator-type and Express space platforms made by the Lavochkin and Reshetnyov NPOs.

Although no data is yet available on Arktika satellites, they will probably have trouble measuring ice thickness. Tussocks reduce ice-floe areas, but total ice volumes remain the same. There is evidence that ice floes accumulate near the northern Canadian coast, possibly due to the wind-rose phenomenon and ocean currents.

Unfortunately Germany's Cryosat spacecraft, which was to verify this theory, was destroyed together with its launch vehicle at the Plesetsk space center on Oct. 10, 2005.

Research conducted by the Arsenal design bureau in St. Petersburg, a leading national spacecraft developer, shows that it is possible to develop a small synthesized-aperture radar satellite, based on the standard Neva platform, for monitoring the ice situation in the Arctic, including ice thickness.

Codenamed Sever -- North -- the new spacecraft will be able to provide other remote-sensing data and process radar photos on board. All data will be relayed to centers currently tracking Resurs-DK, Monitor and Kondor remote-sensing satellites.

Start or Rokot launch vehicles will be used to place Sever satellites into 360-mile circular orbits near the North Pole. It will take three to four years to develop and deploy them after initial allocations are received.

According to preliminary estimates, one 330-by-330-mile photo would cost $300-$600, whereas Canada's RadarSat provides images worth $3,000 and more. Moreover, the Sever cluster would recoup its costs in just four to five years.

(Yury Zaitsev is an academic adviser with the Russian Academy of Engineering Sciences. This article is reprinted by permission of RIA Novosti. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.)

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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