Russia is scheduled to launch its Monitor-E remote sensing satellite at the end of the year, meaning a small-sized spacecraft will for the first time replace heavy satellites in monitoring the environment.
Earth remote sensing probes are employed widely, as the information they supply finds uses in geography and cartography, land surveying and management, and environmental and pollution control. The data are also used in hydro-engineering, land improvement, logging and reforestation, mineral exploration, provision of optimum routes and safety at sea and on other transport, in seafood production, and safe fishing techniques.
Probes employed for these purposes are usually large-sized and heavy. Development, manufacturing and operating costs are relatively high, and so is the price of the information they provide. With inadequate financing of its space industry and disrupted production ties following the break-up of the USSR, Russia has had to increase lead times in developing and launching new craft that meet modern requirements. The result has been that Russian consumers have had to buy information from outside sources, even though Russia has always been strong on high-resolution satellite information, obtained mainly from its reconnaissance satellites.
One way out that has been suggested is to use low-priced small satellites piggybacked into orbit on heavy spacecraft, or launched by light-class carrier rockets converted from decommissioned international ballistic missiles.
The E in Monitor-E stands for “experimental.” The flying prototype is currently undergoing final tests at the Khrunichev Center, known for its Proton boost vehicles and the Zarya and Zvezda modules installed on the International Space Station. The Monitor-E marks a stage in the center’s new field: Developing advanced probes for the economy. A novel feature here is that the small craft was initially conceived to be comparable to big ones, and this has been achieved. The Monitor-E represents a new generation of spacecraft with intelligent onboard systems. It is non-sealed and of modular configuration, and is fitted out with two optical electronic cameras of 8-m and 20-m resolution. It has been designed using the Yakhta unified space platform developed at Khrunichev. The probe weighs 750 kilogrammes. Practically all its equipment and service systems have been developed by the Russian aerospace industry.
One problem is that the range of tasks to be performed by a single spacecraft considerably grows as scientists switch from using single probes, however advanced, to orbital formations including several such craft. The Monitor-E could well be the answer. The basic principle of a new Monitor-based space system is its integrated nature, covering both satellite launching and final product. The mainstay is a group of small-sized probes built on a unified platform.