Monitoring from Outer Space
The Monitoring-SG program of the Union State of Belarus and Russia is designed to guide R&D efforts of Belarusian and Russian scientists in the area of outer space research
Belarus and Russia have been implementing joint space programs via the Union State format for 15 years. Every space exploration and rocket engineering project drives the development of other economy branches in addition to utilizing cutting-edge technologies. The Union State program Monitoring-SG is no exception. Belarusian and Russian specialists have been working on the program for about two years. The program’s innovative component has a certain focus on raising the reliability and the operating life of space craft, the working capacity and survivability of compact space craft used to remotely scan the Earth.
Fast and True
Otherwise known as Monitoring-SG, the Union State program “Development of space and ground-based solutions to provide consumers in Russia and Belarus with Earth remote sensing data” is the fourth program that is related to the creation of space craft and special instruments for space exploration. The consumers are the Federal Space Agency of Russia and the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus. The key contractors are the A.A. Maksimov Space Systems Research Institute, which is a branch of the M.V. Khrunichev State Space Research and Production Center, and the United Informatics Institute of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus. As many as 22 top Belarusian enterprises and organizations, research institutions and universities and 35 Russian ones are involved in the program’s implementation.
Adopted in 2013, the program is designed to last for five years. Plans have been made to spend roughly RUB2.5 billion on implementing the program.
Although work on the program has been in progress for about two years, one can say today that accomplishments of Belarusian and Russian space research scientists and specialists have been implemented, original solutions for designing high-tech equipment for deep space exploration, bolstering the equipment’s reliability and operational life have been found. At present research institutions and relevant enterprises in Belarus and Russia are working in various fields as part of the program: the creation of space craft for the remote sensing of the Earth, the development of reliable scientific instruments, radio location, hyperspectral and optoelectronic high-resolution equipment, the testing of new materials for space craft and so on. By creating new components participants of the program intend to improve parameters of space craft and the ground-based equipment that will receive and decipher precise information sent by the space craft.
The Belarusian space system for the remote sensing of the Earth that was created as part of previous programs of the Union State of Belarus and Russia helps a lot with the accomplishment of new tasks. The system’s data reception center has been built with the assistance of the Russian space agency. The center receives data from the Belarusian satellite and the Russian satellite Canopus. Specialists of the enterprise Geoinformation Systems explained that the space craft use similar trajectories. If the Belarusian satellite is above North America, then the Russian one is somewhere above East Africa. When employed together, they greatly reduce survey times.
It is necessary to mention that a lot is being done today to deliver data sent by the Belarusian-Russian orbital group to consumers in Belarus and Russia. This is why within the framework of the Monitoring-SG program technologies, software and hardware solutions are being developed to effectively process the data sent by the satellites with minimal degradation. Scientists and highly-qualified specialists of the unitary enterprise Geoinformation Systems, which is in charge of operating the Belarusian space system for the remote sensing of
the Earth, work to optimize data storage and deliver the data to consumers, including using modern high-performance supercomputers and grid-based technologies.
Sergei Korenyako, Executive Director of the Belarusian-Russian space program Monitoring-SG, head of the department for joint programs on space and information technologies of the United Informatics Institute of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, stressed that the information technologies, which are being created today, allow processing in real time the large volumes of data sent by the satellites. However, consumers also need assurances that the data is reliable. According to Sergei Korenyako, the utilization of modern satellites fitted with optical-electronic solutions for the remote sensing of the Earth from outer space entails certain drawbacks. For instance, heavy clouds can greatly degrade the data the satellites collect. Scientists intend to address the problem and allow scanning the Earth from outer space in any weather by creating special radar equipment. It will be possible to improve the quality of images of the Earth’s surface in the visible spectrum thanks to new hyperspectrum equipment. The equipment will allow taking pictures of the Earth in the visible range and the infrared range. The pictures will include a lot of photometric information about linear sizes of the objects and their luminance. Specialists will be able to use the detailed photos to make conclusions regarding grain crop readiness, fire breakouts, changes of river banks, and so on. It is understandable that important management decisions will be made on the Earth’s surface using the information. This is why the data cannot be distorted. Bearing this in mind as part of the Monitoring-SG program work is in progress to develop the Belarusian space system for the remote sensing of the Earth by creating methods, technical solutions, and test products to calibrate specifically designed equipment and validate the data sent from outer space.
The extension of the service life of satellites in orbit is supposed to become a major milestone in the implementation of the Union State program and the development of satellite technology. Specialists now believe that five years of satellite operation is insufficient. There are plans to at least double the service life of satellites up to ten years.
The executive director of the Belarusian-Russian space program Monitoring-SG explained that in order to successfully accomplish the goals it is necessary to come up with new technologies and technical solutions, including new components to make the satellite. They will have to be tested in natural conditions and maybe even in outer space.
Sergei Korenyako remarked, “First of all, a satellite needs effective sources of electricity. Second, it has to weigh as little as possible in order to reduce the energy cost of launch and orbit corrections. Third, it is necessary to bear in mind that satellite equipment has to work in very tough environmental conditions, with temperatures varying from minus 120°C to plus 150°C, high levels of radiation, and strong high-frequency electromagnetic field impulses. We have to be sure that the operation of the satellite’s support systems and the mission equipment will be reliable for a long time. We also have to be sure that our communication lines will be able to handle the volumes of data that future mission equipment will transmit. By the way, bearing this in mind, certain algorithms are already being created to allow the satellite to preprocess the data and then send it down to the Earth’s surface. Thus, requirements for the relevant communication channels between the satellite and the ground-based reception center will be reduced.”
Scientists also believe that thanks to the Union State program the emerging gaps in experimental testing of satellite materials will be bridged. It is universally acknowledged that a number of events have negatively affected the development of the rocket and satellite technology and outer space exploration in the last few years. Those events were primarily accidents during the launch and operation of orbital and ground-based hardware. Researchers attribute the deplorable state of affairs to poor infrastructure for R&D efforts, including lab tests and field tests. As a rule, the bulk of the technical solutions used to design
space craft are based on preliminary calculations and modelling done using the relevant hardware and software systems. If R&D work is insufficient, field tests are used, models and prototypes are tested in conditions imitating outer space on the Earth’s surface. But sometimes even ground-based tests fail to verify the propriety of technical solutions, for instance, the use of specific materials for outer space hardware. Technological launches of satellites have been used in such cases since the Soviet Union times. Satellite prototypes are inserted into orbit, certain technological modes are tested, specific data is collected, and data is accessed or transferred to the Earth and processed. Only after the satellite prototypes are tested in the outer space, the developers decided on launching batch-produced satellites. Unfortunately, these principles have been neglected in the post-Soviet period. Scientists believe it is time to correct the error. In the next few years prototypes of new mission equipment designed for compact satellites for the remote sensing of the Earth will be tested in the field. The tested equipment will then be used to create microsatellites for the remote sensing of the Earth. Such satellites may be added later to the current orbital group.
“It is an idea, which time has come, considering the fact that the slight delay in outer space research in Belarus and Russia has been caused not only by quality factors but also by the fact that the number of satellites is insufficient for covering the entire territory of the Union State of Belarus and Russia,” noted Sergei Korenyako. “However, making and launching satellites is an expensive business. This is why if we manage to learn how to create less expensive satellites, which will still be able to provide highquality space data, with increased operational lives, we will be able to resolve the problem of the low number of satellites in orbit.”
Spirit of Cooperation
On the whole, Monitoring-SG is a very versatile program with a large scope. Belarusian co-executors alone are busy working on 49 projects, which envisage the creation of all kinds of scientific and technical products ranging from hardware and software systems and lab benches to computer technologies and components. In a number of R&D areas Belarusian researchers have advanced a lot thanks to the accomplishments secured when the USSR was around and Belarus took an active part in USSR projects. The accomplishments were also secured thanks to previous Union State programs: Cosmos-BR, Cosmos-SG, and Cosmos-NT. The advancement in Belarus can effectively complement efforts of Russian scientists and designers as they labor to reduce the time needed to create R&D products and improve their quality, reliability, and service life. Nevertheless, one can hardly dispute the fact that half of the projects that Russian and Belarusian scientists, specialists, designers, and engineers work on are joint projects that make products only thanks to interaction and the pooling of design solutions and components made in Belarus and Russia.
In some cases results of spacerelated research projects in Belarus can substitute imports. For instance, the Belarusian State University in association with the central mechanical engineering research institute of the Federal Space Agency of Russia, is busy designing an infrared radiometer meant to scan the Earth’s surface in the infrared spectrum. The successful accomplishment of the project will allow fitting satellites with the relevant mission equipment.
Apart from getting useful information from outer space executors of the Union State program are intent on learning how to properly process the data and deliver it to consumers. Consumers need proper tools to work with the space data. This is why vigorous efforts are exercised to develop information technologies, software and hardware solutions for processing the space data sent by radar satellites, satellites fitted with hyperspectrum and infrared mission equipment. Sergei Korenyako said that there are consumers for every project fulfilled as part of the Belarusian part of the program. For instance, satellites can be used to prevent emergencies. As part of the Union State program an entire system is being created to use satellites and aerial solutions for the sake of monitoring Belarus and keeping the relevant departments of the Belarusian Emergencies Ministry informed. Technologies can also be developed to monitor forests for the sake of evaluating the damage of natural calamities, detecting fires
and making the relevant decisions to deal with their consequences. Space images can now be used to precisely estimate the damage inflicted upon the Belarusian forestry industry by climate and fallen trees. Space monitoring solutions are also necessary to evaluate the state of our rivers and lakes, nature reserves with their unique peat land and swamp systems. One can hardly overestimate the importance of monitoring the land for agricultural purposes. It will be easier to use space data to track ineffectively used territories and real estate objects in the course of operation of the State Property Committee.
Many innovations created as part of the Belarusian-Russian space program are based on longterm partnership of Belarusian and Russian scientists. As one of the world’s leading powers in researching and using outer space Russia has a huge space infrastructure and attracts many researchers. Many years of cooperation unite scientists of the B.I. Stepanov Physics Institute of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus and the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. They also cooperate within the framework of the Monitoring-SG program. Plasma sensors are being developed to control plasma flows in different strata of the atmosphere as well as sensors to evaluate the possibility of natural calamities. The project is a vivid example of successful partnership: the Russian side creates the plasma sensor while the Belarusian side creates its core – the sensitive component made out of nanostructured material.
It is worth mentioning R&D projects that involve plasma generation and applications. It is universally acknowledged that plasma is the most widespread state of the matter in the universe. According to modern estimates, over 90% of the matter is in plasma state. Stars and star atmospheres, galactic nebulas and interstellar matter are plasma. Plasma can be found in the magnetosphere and the ionosphere of the Earth. All kinds of gas discharge devices are used in lab conditions to make plasma as well as specifically created instruments such as plasma torches, plasma accelerators and many other plasmabased instruments. Artificial
plasma is also used to accomplish a number of space projects. For instance, within the framework of the Belarusian–Russian space program Monitoring-SG the A.V. Lykov Heat and Mass Transfer Institute of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus works on testing heat protection materials for space craft. The Hall plasma accelerator created by the institute allows modelling plasma impact on the plating of space craft as they enter dense atmosphere at suborbital speeds. When it happens, the plating is heated to thousands of degrees. Artificial plasma is used to examine the heating resistance of plating materials created by Russian scientists.
As part of another project set by the Monitoring-SG program the A.V. Lykov Heat and Mass Transfer Institute is developing technologies to create anti-meteor screens for satellites using a unique quasistationary new-generation highcurrent plasma accelerator. Such screens will come in handy for deep space research and flights to Mars and Venus.
A new Union State program Technology-SG is nearly ready. The A.V. Lykov Heat and Mass Transfer Institute will be one of the leading organizations on the Belarusian side. The new program is designed to guide the development of new technological solutions for reducing the mass and size of various components, devices, and systems used by rockets and satellites.
“At present Union State programs are the most effective way to implement space industry projects,” believes Sergei Korenyako. “Such programs clearly outline the tasks that the space industry needs to accomplish. Meanwhile, space industry contributes to the development of other branches of the economy of Belarus and Russia a priori. State support for the implementation of all the R&D projects of the program is very important both in Belarus and Russia. And then the spirit of cooperation between Belarusian and Russian enterprises and R&D institutions encourages every one of us to keep up the good work, thus securing the high quality of implementation of joint programs.”
Many innovations created as part of the Belarusian-Russian space program are based on longterm partnership of Belarusian and Russian scientists
As part of the Union State program an entire system
is being created to use satellites and aerial solutions to monitor the territory