Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Russian / Soviet Remote Sensing -- Arrested Development

Russian / Soviet Remote Sensing -- Arrested Development
As a successor of Soviet Union, Russian Federation takes lions part of the credit for development of modern space tech. It is well deserved in the rocket propulsion technology, X-ray and Gamma astronomy, exobiology and facilitation of manned space travel. Though, Russians hold slightly different position in Earth research from orbiting platforms (remote sensing.) Officials in the federal space agency report figures on successful launches, delivered people, produced platforms, but not on designed sensors, received terabytes of surface signals or produced and sold remote sensing products.

The situation is explained by military focus of Soviet space program where scientific and even practical civil payloads rarely could make it to the orbit. This is on one hand, but on the other hand, some military applications did require remote sensing data, but due to the nature of the program could not be released for civil use or published as research results.

These issues did not let the remote sensing in Russia go beyond the level of exotic science projects and evolve into an industry. However, to maintain its international scientific image, USSR had a few missions dedicated to science. OKEAN, Interkosmos, METEOR and RESURS are considered the most relevant polar orbiting platforms carrying research worthy equipment. They represented general geophysical and weather monitoring instruments of various spectral and spatial resolutions, yet the general public has limited access to the data even in Russian Federation.

- OKEAN takes its origin in KOSMOS Program where the payload of ELINT platform/bus Tselina was replaced with a set of scientific instruments that included side looking radar, microwave radiometer, and a moderate resolution optical sensor. Several OKEAN satellites were launched by Soviet and then Russian space agency. Later, Ukrainian space agency attempted to lunch its own version of this spacecraft (named SICH) with the enriched set of instruments. The later agency plans another launch attempt this year.

- Intercosmos, was a space program for Warsaw Pact countries to conduct space research as well as manned space flight. 25 launches delivered various scientific instruments to their orbits predominantly for studying magnetosphere, ionosphere and near Earth solar radiation fluxes. Again most of the instrumentation and buses were developed in KB 586 (KB Yuzhnoye, Ukraine) aiming to deliver cluster of small satellites to study ionosphere in the near future.

- METEOR – Russian weather satellite mission is still operational (on METEOR 3M apparatus). The payloads of the numerous launched platforms have been varying but in general it had a TV camera, microwave radiometer and several optical sensors of moderate and high resolution. This mission was the only soviet designed platform carrying foreign made sensor (SAGE-III, USA). The data from METEOR 3M high resolution (38m) scanner is the most popular Russian remote sensing product.

- RESURS satellites (successors of military surveillance projects) are equipped with one high resolution and one moderate resolution sensors. The three bands of the first instrument cover green, read, and near infrared portions of spectrum. Second sensor also has green and red channels but the infrared is split in 2 reflective bands plus the third thermal channel. After 2006 the failure to put the platform into orbit the program is put on hold.

The technology on all of the mentioned equipment was developed during late 80s of the 20th century and undergone minor updates in the recent years. With the end of the cold war, the demand on ELINT and military surveillance dropped drastically. In addition to that the organizational structure of old Soviet Space program had multiple centers of remote sensing technology development. These centers ended up in different countries after the USSR collapsed. Almost all of the research was stripped of funding and conserved on the level of 1991. Though, some small commercial projects, joint missions and foreign contracts kept the specialist base on a stagnation level. Despite the difficulties, KB Yuzhnoye (Ukraine) and PO Lavochkin (Russian Federation) survived the post collapse times and now are actively seeking for opportunities to reengage in remote sensing research and data markets.

Information sources: sputnik.infospace.ru, space.skyrocket.de, astronautix.com, russianspaceweb.com, laspace.ru, and yuzhnoye.com


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