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Russia Readies Civilian Digital Imaging Satellite

Russia’s space agency is making final preparations to launch what officials here tout as the nation’s first civilian imaging spacecraft capable of transmitting high-resolution digital pictures directly to ground stations.

The 6.5-ton Resurs-DK1 satellite is slated to launch June 15 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan into an elliptical orbit with a perigee of 200 kilometers, an apogee of 360 kilometers and an inclination of 71 degrees , according to press materials released by TsSKB-Progress of Samara, the satellite’s manufacturer. The orbit is designed to maximize coverage of Eurasia and North America.

Imagery collected by Resurs-DK1 will be used by Russian government agencies and marketed commercially.

Russia’s previous generations of civilian mapping satellites launched on short-duration missions, orbiting for only a month or two before re-entering the atmosphere so their film-based photographs could be recovered manually for processing. Resurs-DK1, by contrast, will download its imagery — with resolutions sharp enough to distinguish ground objects as small as 1 meter across — by radio link.

The satellite will be owned and operated by the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roskosmos) and will be launched by a Soyuz-U rocket , also built by TsSKB-Progress.

Reached by phone June 7, TsSKB-Progress spokeswoman Oksana Yefimenko declined to comment on the satellite’s capabilities or mission beyond what was in the press kit.

A senior official at TsSKB-Progress hailed the upcoming launch as a “breakthrough” in a phone interview June 8.

“This will be the first civilian satellite of optical-electronic monitoring with such a high resolution,” said the official, who asked not to be identified . The official said the satellite will beam imagery to ground stations either in real time or with “slight delays” depending on its position vis-a-vis receiving stations. He declined to elaborate.

The Russian military switched from film-based imaging satellites to digital ones years ago.

Russian government agencies will use the Resurs-DK1 imagery for mapping as well as resource and disaster management, according to the TsSKB-Progress materials.

In an official response to questions, Roskosmos’ press service said the data will be supplied free of charge to a number of government agencies, including the ministries of Emergency Situations, Nature and Defense, and the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The Ministry of Emergency Situations will use the imagery to detect and monitor large-scale fires, floods, landslides, oil spills and even radiation leaks at nuclear facilities, which can cause changes in local-area temperatures that can be detected via satellite , according to the materials. Yulia Stadnikova, spokeswoman for the ministry, declined to comment when reached by phone June 8.

The imagery also will be used by the Federal Drug Police to monitor fields of wild cannabis across Russia’s southern regions as well as poppy fields in Afghanistan, Mikhail Lantsev, a spokesman for the law-enforcement agency, told Space News in a June 8 phone interview .

Lantsev said there are about 29,000 hectares (roughly 71,000 acres) of wild cannabis growing in Russia’s Tuva region that the police need to keep an eye on. The Russian drug police also have been asked by the Afghan government to provide data on poppy fields in Afghanistan, which accounted for about 90 percent of the estimated 40 tons of heroin smuggled into Russia last year, Lantsev said.

Resurs-DK1 will provide imagery with 1-meter resolution in the panchromatic band and 2- to 3-meter resolution in multispectral bands, according to TsSKB-Progress’ official Web site. The satellite will be able to photograph up to 700,000 square kilometers per 24 hours, according to the site. The satellite will rely on Russia’s constellation of Glonass satellites for navigation and is designed to last at least three years in orbit, according to the site.

The satellite will offer swath widths ranging from 4.7 kilometers to 28.3 kilometers, according to the TsSKB-Progess press kit.

Roskosmos has financed construction of two Resurs-DK1 ground stations, one in Moscow and one in the Siberian province of Khanty Mansiisk, Russian space officials told Space News in 2003.

Five to 10 ground stations would be needed to take maximum advantage of Resurs-DK1’s digital downlink capabilities, according to Mikhail Fomtchenko, president of Moscow-based Sovinformsputnik, a commercial sales arm of Roskosmos.

In a 2003 interview, Fomtchenko said Asia and Europe would be the most promising markets for Resurs-DK1 imagery. Reached by phone June 7, Fomtchenko confirmed that his company will be responsible for marketing the imagery commercially, but refused to elaborate.

“The quality of video information produced by Resurs-DK is comparable with the best foreign analogues in the sphere of Earth-probing such as Ikonos and QuickBird , ” Roskosmos said in its response to questions. “Moreover, some of the parameters of the system are superior to those analogues. Therefore, there is an opportunity to sell the information resources both at the domestic and foreign markets in what would cover up the costs of producing and deploying this system.”

Roskosmos declined to detail the costs associated with Resurs-DK1.

The statement said Roskosmos ” would be able to talk about signing contracts with foreign companies only after the satellite is launched and its flight tests are completed.”

The Resurs-DK1 satellite also will carry an international astronomy sensor called Payload for Antimatter Matter Exploration and Light-nuclei Astrophysics (PAMELA) , according to a June 6 statement from Piergiorgio Picozza, a researcher with Italy’s National Institute of Nuclear Physics and principal investigator for the experiment .

The 470-kilogram PAMELA instrument, which will study antimatter and dark matter in space, is a collaboration of the Italian institute and a number of Russian institutes. Germany’s Siegen University and Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology also are participating in the program, along with New Mexico State University and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.