MOSCOW. (Yury Zaitsev for RIA Novosti) - Russia's 2006-2015 federal space program includes more than 20 projects devoted to fundamental scientific research.
Nevertheless, it has not yet orbited any specialized scientific payloads except for Resurs-DK1, an earth-observation satellite launched this year to perform high-resolution remote observations of the Earth.
Its launch was postponed many times. Developed in 1996, it does not fully live up to present-day requirements or compare with existing foreign craft, according to independent experts. Nevertheless it can be considered an achievement of Russian aerospace because post-Soviet Russia has not yet launched distant probing satellites. While Monitor-E, a smaller Earth-watching spacecraft with poorer resolution, was put into orbit a year before Resurs, it is still not performing regular observations.
The design of Resurs-DK1 left a lot of leeway for additional payload, extra space and more power. This paved the way for installing "piggyback" scientific equipment, the Pamela and Arina instruments. The full name of the first device is the RIM-PAMELA, which stands for Russian-Italian Mission-Payload for Antimatter Matter Exploration and Light-Nuclei Astrophysics. It is a joint Italian-Russian project involving Sweden, the United States and Germany, and it is the first program ever to investigate dark matter (or hidden mass) and dark energy - space vacuum energy directed against gravity and driving the present expansion of the Universe - from outer space.
The aim of the Arina experiment is to perfect techniques for quickly predicting earthquakes from space. This method registers energetic particles in near-Earth space, which appear several hours before a tremor and can be thought of as its short-lived precursors.
After three months of testing, Pamela and Arina have started carrying out regular measurements. Both devices are functioning normally and are expected to stay aloft for not less than three years - long enough to carry out their mission.
Unfortunately, the Russian segment of the International Space Station is still not involved in scientific research - with the exception of medical and biological experiments - because the required equipment is still on the ground. According to State Duma Deputy Vitaly Sevastyanov, a pilot and cosmonaut, Russian members of the ISS crew conduct research "on a shoe-string budget."
Russian scientists, therefore, are eagerly looking forward to the launch next year of Coronas-Photon, the first full-blown scientific spacecraft to arrive in many years. The satellite is designed to explore energy accumulation and transformation in the Sun; mechanisms whereby energetic particles accelerate, disseminate and interact with each other; and the relationship between solar activity and physical and chemical processes in the Earth's upper atmosphere. Scientists hope the mission will shed light on what is causing global warming - solar activity or human interference.
Coronas-Photon is part of the KORONAS program (Comprehensive Orbital Near-Earth Observations of Solar Activity), which has already implemented the Coronas-I and Coronas-F projects. The launch of the new satellite will pick up where they left off. Coronas-Photon is also part of the International Living With a Star (ILWS) program. Like the two previous craft, Coronas-Photon will be placed in a circular orbit 550 kilometers high with an inclination of 82.5 degrees.
The scientific payload of the new craft differs from that of its forerunners. According to Yury Kotov, director of the Astrophysics Institute at the Moscow Engineering and Physics Institute and the research supervisor of the project, the main distinction is that it is more concerned with high-energy physics studies. Its instruments contain improved X-ray optics. The new devices are also better at identifying real processes, a great help in filtering out background events. Investigations, furthermore, allow for active and passive stabilization of instrument parameters: experience has shown that in scientific equipment that has spent several years in space, parameter-drifting increases twofold compared with rated values. Lastly, ten times more scientific information will be sent back to Earth by a new radio downlink.
The final tests are now being performed on the scientific payload and the craft itself, which includes Indian and Ukrainian instruments. The satellite's platform, which is being assembled simultaneously, is based on the Meteor-3 spacecraft.
Initially, the Coronas-Photon project was to have been built around the Ukrainian unified AUOS-SM platform, developed by the Yuzhnoye Design Bureau in Dnepropetrovsk. But the Ukrainian side could not or would not undertake a joint project, with each partner financing its own part of the job. Besides, most of the computer chips and standard systems used in the Ukrainian platform were outdated. The decision was therefore made to use a Russian platform, which, moreover, was new and had been tried out in space. As a result, Ukraine only ended up contributing one instrument, financed by its National Space Agency.
Yury Zaitsev is an analyst at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Space Research Institute.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.