Russia Looks To Position Glonass as a Competitive System

by

The Russian government, attempting to catch up to the U.S. GPS navigation system’s commercial success and anticipate Europe’s future Galileo effort, has enacted a law forcing Russian consumers to use only those terminals capable of receiving Russian Glonass satellite signals starting in 2006, according to the Russian space agency, Roskosmos.

The law, which permits dual-mode equipment as long as Glonass is one of the two compatible services, is designed to stimulate a consumer market for Glonass and prevent the Russian market from being taken over by equipment designed to work solely with the U.S. GPS satellite constellation, and later Galileo.

Glonass, which was built with Russian Defense Ministry funds in the 1980s and early 1990s into a potential GPS competitor, all but collapsed in the late 1990s as Russia’s financial crisis and the limited lifetimes of the individual satellites combined to degrade system performance. The number of functioning spacecraft fell from 26 in 1995 to just seven in 2001.

Now designated a strategic priority for the Russian government, Glonass is on the mend. Thirteen Glonass satellites are operating, a figure that should rise to 18 satellites in 2007 and a full 24-satellite complement in 2011, according to Sergey Revnivykh of Roskosmos. He said the system will feature GPS-level performance by 2008.

Revnivykh presented a Glonass update at the 45th Civil GPS Service Interface Committee meeting, held Sept. 13 in Long Beach, Calif.

Russia’s decision to force new navigation equipment sold starting in 2006 to be Glonass compatible is the type of policy some European government officials have suggested to help Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation system gain a market foothold when it is operational around 2011. European officials have said almost all navigation gear sold by 2015 will be dual-mode, capable of receiving GPS and Galileo signals.

Russia and Europe both have signed agreements with the United States promising that all three systems will be free of direct user fees for their open signals. Galileo features fee-paying signals as well as the free open service.

Galileo and GPS are global satellite constellations that will be operated alongside regional systems planned in Japan, China and India. How and whether Glonass — also a global constellation — will fit into this picture has been unclear because of the system’s instability over the last decade.

Revnivykh said Russia is committed to making Glonass fully functional. The next launch, in December, will be of two Glonass-M satellites and one older Glonass satellite, he said.

Gaps in service, he said, have been reduced from 14 hours to three hours now that 13 satellites are operational.

A second civil signal has been added to the Glonass-M satellites, introduced in 2003. Two of these are in orbit, and six more have been ordered from prime contractor NPO-PM of Krasnoyarsk. The Glonass-M spacecraft have seven-year service lives, compared to three years for their predecessors.

Revnivykh said a December agreement with India provides that India’s GSLV rocket may be used to launch at least one Glonass-M satellite. The two governments also agreed to work together on ground infrastructure development for satellite navigation services.

The planned Glonass-K satellites , scheduled for launch starting in 2008, will have a third civilian signal and 10-year service lives. Up to 27 of these models will be ordered, also from NPO-PM.

Glonass-K satellites are expected to weigh 850 kilograms at launch, compared to 1,415 kilograms for Glonass-M. The lighter weight will permit the new Glonass constellation to be launched , two satellites at a time, by the medium-lift Soyuz rocket. Up to now, Glonass satellites have been launched three at a time by the larger Proton rocket.

If Russian and European satellite-navigation plans hold to their current schedules, the U.S. GPS constellation has no more than six years to go before its status as a global monopoly ends.

By that time, the commercial satellite navigation market will exceed $68 million in annual equipment sales, according to Lt. Col. Wayne Bell, chief of the GPS System Integration Branch at the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base.

Addressing the same meeting at which Roskosmos’ Revnivykh spoke, Bell and Maj. Chuck Daniels, director of the Joint GPS Operations Center at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., said the GPS constellation will be modernized with three new-generation spacecraft launched per year starting in 2006.

The latest GPS launch, on Sept. 26, put up the first GPS 2R-M satellite, built by Lockheed Martin, carrying a second civil signal. A third civil signal will be available starting in 2007, when the first GPS 2F satellite is launched.

Bell said six new GPS ground stations have been added — six more are scheduled for installation by November 2006 — to better track the GPS constellation and warn users, civil and military, of outages or faulty signals.