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Russia's space industry is ending the year without mishaps. Although
Russia's space industry is ending the year without mishaps. Although old headaches and problems are still there, things have not changed for the worse, and that is quite an achievement in our troubled times.

Despite the crisis, Russia is leading the world in rocket launches. On December 25, the last launch this year was carried out: a heavy Proton carrier rocket orbited three satellites of the Glonass (Global Navigation Satellite System). The Russians made 27 launches in 2008, one more than in 2007. This is a post-Soviet record.

The Americans dropped markedly behind, with 14 launches, including one unsuccessful: the Falcon-1. China carried out seven space launches, including one manned. Five French Ariane-5 launch vehicles lifted off the Kourou space center in French Guiana. As many Russian-Ukrainian Zenit-3SL rockets blasted off from the Odyssey sea-based platform in the equatorial Pacific, operated by the Sea Launch company.

India and Japan made their space debuts, 3 to 1, respectively. Iran tried to become a space power, but there is no proof that it has put a spacecraft into Earth orbit.

In January-October, 85 satellites were injected into space, with the largest number, 35, launched by Russia. In this case, however, it acted as a traditional freighter and orbited more foreign satellites than its own.

Russia leads the world in rocket launches, but it is still using the potential created fifty years ago. Its rockets are robust, but there is a limit to everything. It seems there is time to roll out new launch vehicles. But there is none. Let us hope we'll see them in the future.

At the same time, it is hard to disagree with the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos) that launch services require high technologies, of the same type that are used to develop nano-products, and Roscosmos is determined to stay ahead despite the global crisis. It is common wisdom that most efforts are needed where success is assured.

Russia's Glonass system is a nice example of that. Its 17 satellites were joined this year by three more, launched by a Proton. There is hope that Glonass satellites will soon cover all of Russia. Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, commenting on the successful December 25 launch, said: "Personally, I do not think the space end of Glonass has any major problems left. In the next two years we should focus on the ground framework."

Good progress has been reported on the ground. The terrestrial infrastructure for space monitoring has been improved and space findings are being used with greater effectiveness. It is also gratifying that college and university students are actively joining the effort.

In 2008, three Russian universities - the Siberian and Southern Federal universities and Tyumen State University - set up space monitoring centers. The technologies they are using have been developed in Russia by the ScanX Engineering Technology Center. The centers serve to observe the environment in Russia's regions from space.

But to be effective, they need a large number of remote-sensing satellites, which are unfortunately lacking. However, next year's plans include launching more of Earth and weather satellites. If everything goes well, Russia will acquire its own constellation of weather satellites by 2013.

Given a large and upgraded fleet of rockets and spacecraft of all types, Russia may become the absolute space leader at the beginning of the next decade.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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