Putin’s checkmate as Russia launched Arctic space program

At the beginning of 2021 world missed one extremely important and profound moment — a new Russian spacecraft “Arktika-M” was launched into a highly elliptical orbit. This satellite supposed to solve tasks of operative meteorology, hydrology, monitoring of climate and environment in arctic region. Also, to ensure constant monitoring of the northern Russian territory and the seas of the Arctic Ocean, as well as relaying signals from the “Kospas-Sarsat” system.

Most Earth remote sensing satellites are located in geostationary or geosynchronous orbits, far enough from the surface of our planet. Geostationary orbit, located 35 786 km above the equator — perfect option for meteorological satellites.

Earth, from that distance is seen absolutely perfectly and while some details are hidden from human sight, it’s still best option to observe weather in most regions of the world. Since 2011, Russian spacecraft “Electro L” works in that particular orbit. Today two satellites, launched in 2015 and 2019 works in that orbit.

“Electro L” supplies Russian scientists and meteorologists with highest quality earth surface images, except for polar and circumpolar regions. The geostationary orbit is located above the equator of the Earth, and all northern regions are not visible.

In order to fix this situation, satellites of the “Arktika-M” series were made. They will operate in a special highly elliptical “Molnya” type orbit. This orbit more reminds of stretched ellipse and most of the time satellite spends in that point of orbit, which is most distant from Earth, apogee, which for the orbit of “Molnya” passes over the Northern Hemisphere. It allows “Arktika-M” satellites to observe the Arctic regions of our planet and send high-precision images.

“Arktika-M” reminds its predecessor “Electro-L” and is built on the same “Navigator” space platform, there are only a few differences. For example, “Arktika” has to overcome the van Allen radiation zone four times a day, located at an altitude of 4 to 17 thousand km above the Earth’s surface. Just because of that, spacecraft has special strengthened radiation protection.

How well “Arktika” sees the Earth? Once in 15–30 minutes, spacecraft shoots the Earth with a resolution of 1 to 7 km per pixel. It means, objects less than a kilometer in size cannot be detected, but huge cyclones and weather fronts, cloudy areas, in general, everything that is required to compose detailed weather maps are perfectly visible.

Resolution accuracy depends on the scanning range. “Arktika-M” can operate in both infrared and visible ranges. The infrared range is crucial during work in winter, when there is a polar night in the northern territories.

Moreover, spacecraft measures temperature with an accuracy of 0.1 degrees, transmits data between ground-based meteorological stations, and the “Kospas-Sarsat” system retransmits signals from emergency buoys, that are currently equipped on almost all vessels. In order to provide constant, non stop surveillance, at least two “Arktika-M” vehicles are required. It is assumed, that the second one will be launched into orbit at the end of 2021. Satellites should serve at least 7 years.

So, why does Russia need such a close meteorological observation of the Arctic? First of all, for composing the most accurate weather map. Especially in winter, Arctic cyclones, have a huge effect on the weather over the territory of Russia, just to remind recent months. With the help from “Arktika” series spacecraft, it will be possible to predict the arrival (coming) of cyclones with much greater accuracy.

Besides, study of the Arctic territories has huge importance for scientists. How much does the global climate change affect the Arctic territories, how does the annual air temperature change in the polar regions? Satellite will make possible to make accurate forecasts for the upcoming years and will improve understanding of the processes taking place over the Arctic Ocean.

Good, appropriate weather conditions in the region will also be important factor for the operation of the Northern Sea Route, through which more and more ships transport gas and other cargo every year. Meteorological map of these latitudes will allow to determine the best time for escorting caravans and even monitor the general ice situation in the region. It all shows that Russia slowly implements its Arctic program, step by step making this region more and more convenient for work, navigation and mining. Most scientists agree, that in the coming years the climate in the northern regions of Russia will become more and more soft and in the long term it may become much more comfortable for life.

It means it is a big time to use of this opportunity for the country in the most efficient way. Also previously inaccessible minerals, to drive caravans of ships (by the way, the route from Germany to China by the Northern Sea Route is almost one and a half times shorter than the classic version through the Suez Canal and Mediterranean Sea). Today Russia is the only country in the world, that has a fleet of nuclear icebreakers. Arctic type ships (project 22220) are capable of breaking through ice up to 2.8 m thick, and the recently laid down nuclear icebreaker “Leader” (project 10510) will be able to break through ice up to 4.3 m thick.

Work on improveing the quality of life are in a full swing. The floating nuclear power plant FNPP “Akademik Lomonosov” for the first season provided light and heath to the inhabitants of the polar city of Pevek. Russian space program of work with the northern territories will not end with “Arktika-M”. Today a new spacecrafts are being created to operate in low-earth orbit and to monitor the ice cover; they will also help in the ice escort of icebreakers and ships. Program of spacecrafts, who suppose to provide the region with communications and broadband internet already was announced. Russia is going to the Arctic, and is doing it seriously and with confident and space technologies.

Translation and audio: Danielius Karkozas