Russia Says Glonass System Nearing Full Restoration

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MUNICH Russian government space officials on March 1 and March 2 said they would launch five Glonass-M satellites this year to bring the in-orbit constellation past the key milestone of 24 operational satellites with spares and to within reach of the performance of the U.S. GPS constellation.

One of them chided European governments for having rejected Russia’s offer to merge Europe’s planned Galileo satellite navigation constellation with Russia’s Glonass. The offer was made at a time when Glonass, suffering

from Russia’s economic hardship around 2001, fell from 26 operational satellites to just six. Unsure of Glonass’ survival, Russia sought outside help. Europe’s response was negative.

“Our idea at the time was to create a common system with Europe, using Glonass [broadcast] frequencies,” Anatoly Shilov, deputy director of Russia’s Roscosmos space agency, said during a March 1 panel discussion at the Munich Satellite Navigation Summit. “It so happened that Europe wanted to create its own system. So we had to choose: Use GPS forever or build something of our own.”

The shoe is now decidedly on the other foot. A decade after Europe elected to continue with its own Galileo system instead of joining forces with Russia, Glonass is nearing full restoration while Galileo is struggling to surmount the latest of its funding crises. Only 18 of the intended 30 satellites have been financed, and the first of these will not be launched until mid-2011.

The Russian government decision to rebuild Glonass ranks as one of the great turnaround stories in the space age. It is all the more remarkable given the short operational life of the earlier generation of Glonass satellites— just three years — and what that required in terms of launches, three at a time, aboard heavylift Proton rockets.

Sergey G. Revnivykh, director of the satellite navigation department at Roscosmos, said here March 2 that the loss of three Glonass-M satellites during a December launch failure “is a problem, not a catastrophe.”

A new-generation Glonass-K satellite was launched Feb. 26 aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket, the first time a Glonass spacecraft was placed into orbit from Russia’s Plesetsk Cosmodrome aboard the Soyuz-Fregat vehicle.

Glonass-K spacecraft are designed to operate for 10 years in medium Earth orbit, compared to seven years for Glonass-M. Glonass-K also inaugurates Russia’s use of CDMA, or code division multiple access, frequencies that will make it more easily interoperable with U.S. and European systems.

Revnivykh said that the launch of the Glonass-M satellites later this year will bring the constellation to full operational status for the first time in more than a decade, and put it on a path to be comparable in performance to GPS.

Shilov and Revnivykh said the Russian government remains solidly behind Glonass, especially now that the frequency of launches can be moderated with the longer service lives of the new satellites.