At the end of 2005, Russia plans to launch its experimental ERS satellite Monitor-E. The launch prototype is currently undergoing final tests at the Khrunichev Center, known for its Proton carrier rockets and the Zarya and Zvezda modules for the International Space Station. Monitor-E marks an important stage in the Center’s efforts to develop advanced space systems for the national economy. Russia is the first country to develop a small-sized spacecraft with the same capabilities as a heavier craft for the purposes of carrying out environmental monitoring.
Earth remote sensing (ERS) systems are widely used throughout the world, as the data obtained has many useful social and economic applications. These systems allow for improvements to be made in such fields as geographic and thematic mapping, land surveying, pollution control and environmental monitoring, hydro-engineering and land improvement, logging and reforestation, mineral exploration, transport planning, safety at sea, seafood production, and the safety of the fishing industry. ERS systems are currently based on large, heavy spacecraft. They are expensive to develop, manufacture and operate, and as a result, the data is also not cheap. One of the ways to make Russia’s ERS systems more efficient is to develop inexpensive compact craft suitable for piggyback orbit on heavy launch vehicles. Alternatively, the systems could be launched by light vehicles, most of which are converted decommissioned intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The original idea was that this would be a commercial project funded by the Khrunichev Center. When the vehicle was in its final stages, the Russian Space Agency (Roskosmos), prompted by the need to renew the country’s ERS satellite formation, the condition of which had become critical in recent years, decided to include the Monitor-E project in the federal space program. If this had been done earlier, the new Russian satellite could have been in orbit for two years now. The Agency will own 70% of Monitor-E’s information-gathering capacity, in order to cater for government users, and the Khrunichev Center will own 30%, which it will use for commercial applications. The underlying principle behind the creation of the new Russian ERS system has been to provide a unified system, capable of providing for all functions, from launch to end products. Its principal component is the formation of smaller spacecraft based on the unified platform.