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Northern Sea Route online: How satellites monitor navigation

Arktika-M satellites will provide round-the-clock all-weather monitoring of the Earth surface and the Arctic seas

MOSCOW, March 31. /TASS/. On February 28, the Soyuz-2.1b carrier with the Fregat booster, sent the first Arktika-M hydrometeorological satellite into orbit, and on March 22, the national space agency, Roskosmos, published first images from the satellite.

The satellite is on the highly elliptical orbit (HEO) with an apogee of 37,400 - 39,800 km, and a perigee of 600-3000 km. The Arktika-M highly elliptical hydrometeorological space system should comprise at least two satellites. Arktika-M satellites will provide round-the-clock all-weather monitoring of the Earth surface and the Arctic seas, and also constant and reliable communications.

Deputy Head of the Section for Multispectral Scanners Development at the Russian Space Systems Company Yuri Gektin told TASS about the satellite, its additional protection and further satellite systems.

From temperatures to ice shifts

Changes in circulation of air flows in the Arctic cause weather changes both in the Northern and Southern hemispheres. Thus, many polar stations have been organized on the Arctic islands and coastlines. They conduct weather, geophysics, geomagnetic and hydrology studies.

"However, until now, not a country in the world has made a satellite constellation to watch the polar areas," Gektin said.

Forecast accuracy (air temperatures, pressure, etc.) requires measurements per every 10-20 square kilometers north of the 60th latitude. To an extent, this is what low-orbit satellites do every 90 minutes, but the measurements should be tenfold more accurate. This is the task for the Arktika-M satellites, he added.

HEO satellites may collect meteorology and hydrology data referring to the Earth’s northern areas, and the scanning equipment is used for ongoing imaging of the Earth every 15 to 30 minutes. The satellites will additionally measure the wind speed. All the parameters will be transmitted to the Earth, where experts will make atmosphere models for accurate forecasts, which are extremely important for the air and sea navigation.

The Arktika-M satellite will watch the space weather and the solar radiation that affects electronics. The helio-physical complex will track processes in the near-Earth space and near space, will study the impact of the solar wind on the magnetosphere and ionosphere. "The complex will allow us to study the physics and structure of the Earth's upper atmosphere to develop a number of fundamental sciences," Gektin said.

As another major task of the new satellite constellation, it will observe ice flows. "This frequency of surveying will allow observing how ice fields move and where wide cracks are formed," the researcher said, stressing that this would help organize navigation along the Northern Sea Route.

Day and night

The imaging will be from the distance of 1 to 4 km, and the temperature precision will make 0.1 - 0.2 degrees Celsius. Further on, the data will be transmitted every 15, 20, 30 minutes year-round.

"Interestingly, in those areas thick clouds are not often, and thus we can watch the entire Northern Sea Route in real time to assist the navigation," the scientist said.

"The equipment installed on the satellite allows simultaneous observation in ten spectral bands, seven of them are thermal and this will allow observing day and night," he said.

Arctic pioneers

Russia in fact is a pioneer in this sphere, the specialist said. "It will be the first system in the world, which will work on that orbit and which will transmit that amount of data on the North Pole," he said.

"As for certain technical specifications of our satellites, in some aspects they are behind western examples, but this difference, like in radiometric precision, is not crucial," Gektin said, adding the Russian equipment’s cost is about 30 times lower than that of similar western systems.

The first Arktika-M satellite has equipment similar to that used on the Elektro geostationary satellite. But since the orbit is not circular and its lower part crosses the heights of about 1,000 km, which radiation areas are most ‘poisonous’ for electronics, the satellite has received additional protection from the radiation. "Arktika also has additional recording devices to backup information in case of failures," the expert added.

Arktika-M uses sophisticated software, which changes the satellite’s positioning twice during every spin, which is necessary first of all for the radiation system of cooling heat receivers, without which it would not be possible to receive seven-channel images in thermal ranges.

Further plans

The program’s target is to organize a stable constellation, when on the orbit constantly remain two or three satellites (to assure smooth work even in case of failures). Scientists want to launch at least two satellites, which will be synchronized with the period of six hours. "In that case, while one is close to the Earth, the other takes images," Gektin said. "Later on, third and fourth satellites may join the process."

Three-four satellites integrated into the orbital cluster will provide for continuously obtaining data and will help study objects and observe processes with an interval of 5-10 minutes, the expert said.

"For the stable inflow of information from those space apparatuses, we may need to build a few stations in higher latitudes," he said.

Presently, one Arktika-M satellite is working on the orbit. Scientists will analyze its functioning to see how satellites may be upgraded. "The information, received from the satellites, will be processed by scientists, who will say what tasks may be set, in which direction to develop the equipment’s next generation, what to install additionally, and in what directions we need more work," he added.

The Arktika-M satellite, launched in February 2021, is expected to work for at least seven-eight years. If nothing extraordinary happens, it "will work without problems even for ten years," the expert said.