Borisov's interview regarding development of Roscosmos and Russian space industry.
Russian satellites will be built according to a new principle
The domestic space industry must radically change approaches to the creation of orbital vehicles, says the head of Roscosmos, Yuri Borisov. How are Russian satellites arranged today, what are their shortcomings compared to foreign competitors, and how are satellites proposed to be changed?
The head of Roscosmos, Yuri Borisov , said that the Sphere project to create a multi-satellite orbital system requires Russia to switch to new technical principles for creating and managing space constellations. Sphere is a gigantic government project to create hundreds of multifunctional satellites for various purposes.
Borisov has already spoken on this topic before. In particular , it was said that “Roscosmos is heavily indebted to the Russian economy. Today it is impossible to imagine the modern world without space services. This includes digital television, communications, data transmission, navigation, meteorological information, cartography, knowledge of the Earth's surface, analysis of emergency situations, and so on. Today it is simply impossible to imagine this or that sphere of our economy without space services.”
The head of Roscosmos recognized the domestic backlog in this area. According to him, the Americans, Europeans and Chinese - the main players in this market - "have long overtaken us in this regard," and "Roskosmos needs to restructure its work in such a way as to learn how to produce satellites in a completely different quantity. This will require a radical restructuring of the main processes of the technological cycle - development, production, testing, an increase in the terms of active existence ... "
Behind these statements is a fundamental change in the entire concept of satellite production in Russia.
six six six
In Soviet times, in many different variations, the rule for creating a spacecraft was “six-six-six”. Weight - six tons, price - six million, creation time - six years. This is a joke in which you do not need to look for real data, but the principles here are very clear. The spacecraft needs to be made for a long time, it must be a large “combine” with many different devices and tools, and the price must be appropriate so that it is enough for all the structures working on the project.
A similar principle was adhered to approximately until the end of the last century by the United States represented by NASA and military structures. Large spacecraft, not quite frequent launches, but the ability to stick many functions on one satellite. The reasons for such a strategy are clear - launches into space are expensive and it is desirable to launch a spacecraft that can do more in one launch, if it takes place. Currently, such spacecraft also remain, of the indicative options - JPSS and Landsat. Such devices carry more fuel and can work longer.
Another reason for this spacecraft architecture was the emphasis on pressurized instrument containers. That is, all electronics and most of the devices in the devices of that time were in a sealed volume, usually filled with an inert gas. Frames with onboard equipment, devices that worked in a gaseous environment were placed inside the containers, this was done largely to prevent overheating and hypothermia of the devices.
For example, according to this scheme, spacecraft for remote sensing of the Earth "Meteor" and "Resurs" were created. They are based on a sealed tank almost three meters long, inside it is maintained at a pressure of 100 millimeters of mercury, the nitrogen-based gas mixture is circulated using four fans, the gas is heated using electric heaters, and radiators on the case are responsible for cooling .
Naturally, this whole system is expensive and energy-intensive in itself. The desire of the developers is also natural: since a spacecraft is already being made on the basis of this platform, they should stuff as many different devices as possible into it. Because of this, there were situations when, with such “combine satellites”, one of the devices interfered with the work of others. Another problem is that the accidental hit of a micrometeorite and the depressurization of the container led to the loss of the entire expensive apparatus.
Large, but five, small, but three
The beginning of the new millennium brought with it the miniaturization of electronics, lower energy consumption requirements, and a general reduction in the cost of components. The overall heat dissipation also decreased. It became possible to create spacecraft of an open type, without the use of a sealed volume.
Most modern spacecraft do not have a sealed volume. All electronics are installed directly on a heat-stabilizing base, inside which pipes with a coolant run to cool the components. Heat is transferred from appliances to radiators, where it is dissipated in space.
All this ultimately made it possible to simplify the design of spacecraft and led to the creation of nanosatellites - cubesats. One cubesat unit (1U) is an aluminum case measuring 10 by 10 by 10 centimeters and weighing about a kilogram. And such spacecraft are now not only student crafts.
For example, Dove-2 Earth remote sensing satellites, owned by Planet Labs, are 3U (100 mm × 100 mm × 340 mm). The weight, together with batteries and solar panels that open outside the case, is only 5.8 kilograms. At the same time, such a space “digital camera” shoots extremely decently (3.5 meters per pixel). The low price allowed the company to launch several hundred of these spacecraft and provide images of the entire surface of the Earth with daily updates.
But these are still small spacecraft. For better image quality and for other purposes, larger satellites are required. And here the ability to put production on stream was shown by SpaceX and Airbus. SpaceX created the Starlink 1 and 1.5 satellites to create the Starlink constellation to provide broadband Internet access, more than 3,000 of which have been produced since 2019.
200-kilogram satellites and the release of more than three pieces per day. Until recently, this seemed simply unrealistic, but SpaceX put the production of spacecraft on stream. The ability to launch 64 Starlinks at once in one launch of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle allowed the company to create the most massive satellite constellation in the history of mankind.
Airbus has less success so far, but it is also impressive. For the OneWeb project, the Airbus Arrow satellite platform was developed, which also allows the production of several spacecraft per week. Moreover, Airbus Arrow is multifunctional and allows building a variety of spacecraft based on the platform: communication satellites, optical surveillance satellites, radar satellites. All this on a hundred-kilogram platform, adapted to launch a large number of devices at once in one launch .
Currently, the first phase of the Russian Sphere project relies on the Skif, Yamal and Express spacecraft, which are responsible for various telecommunications projects. These are good devices. There is exactly one problem - Russia does not yet have the opportunity to produce hundreds of them a year and is unlikely to. But they need less, only about two dozen.
But from 2025, it is planned to mass-produce Marathon devices for the Internet of things and a series of Berkut spacecraft for a variety of tasks in remote sensing of the Earth. And now there are hundreds of them.
Therefore, Russia has no other way. Only the transition to mass production of platforms for spacecraft, mass production and then the creation of specific satellites or even a family of satellites on their basis. As in the case of "Berkut" - when you need devices for optical shooting, for high-detailed shooting, for radar shooting.
Yes, these spacecraft will have a narrower specialization than when creating satellites according to individual projects. But it will be a much more resistant system to the failure of several devices, with the ability to create ready-made services on its basis for both enterprises and citizens of the country.
Other advantages of this solution are also obvious - the possibility of mass creation of spacecraft, their unification, the possibility of saturating industries that now need new satellites like air. But this will work out only if a universal platform is created in the near future and its mass, in-line production is established.
Moreover, Roskosmos does not have the opportunity to give the entire process into private hands - they will have to create a platform and control its release on their own. No other solutions will help to reduce the backlog in the number of devices.