True, the national space program, which is supported by President Vladimir Putin and the government, has started receiving additional resources. In recent years, the country has mostly developed spacecraft for accomplishing socioeconomic objectives and has overhauled its telecommunications satellite cluster.
Additional measures have been taken in order to reactivate the 13-satellite GLONASS (Global Navigation Satellite System) cluster, which on August 31 received two new GLONASS-M satellites with a five-year service life.
Three more GLONASS-M spacecraft are to be launched on December 25, and another one will lift off next year. Two GLONASS-M satellites will be assembled in 2007.
There are plans to have eight GLONASS satellites operating along each of the three orbital planes two years from now.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said the orbital cluster would almost certainly be ready by late 2009. "We can produce the required number of spacecraft whenever necessary," he said.
Unfortunately, the system's ground segment still leaves a lot to be desired. Starting on January 1, 2007, all restrictions on the purchase and use of GPS receivers will be lifted all over Russia, but batch production of them has not yet been launched. Moreover, electronic maps of all of Russian territory will only be compiled by late 2007. Consequently, commercial use of the global positioning system for civilian purposes is still out of the question.
To remedy the situation, Vladimir Putin has demanded that an official be placed in charge of GLONASS's ground segment. It would be pointless to expand the satellite cluster unless GPS receivers are mass-produced.
In 1995, Russia completed deployment of a GLONASS cluster but failed to use it accordingly. It appears that the situation may repeat itself today.
In 2006, Russia launched its first Resurs-DK1 remote-sensing satellite, which was activated in September after three-month test flights. The Resurs-DK1 can photograph from 450,000 to 750,000 square kilometers of the terrestrial surface per day with a resolution of one meter.
Russia has also continued to operate the experimental small-size Monitor-E optoelectronic surveillance satellite, which uses panchromatic cameras with a resolution of 10-11 meters and spectral-zone cameras with a resolution of 22-25 meters to fill daily commercial orders.
Both the Monitor-E and the Resurs-DK1are experimental remote-sensing satellites, due to be replaced with new-generation Resurs-II spacecraft, which will capture multi-zone images of the terrestrial surface with a resolution of 0.5-2 meters in the visible and infrared bands. There are plans to orbit the first such optoelectronic surveillance satellite in 2009-2010. In all, seven remote-sensing satellites, as well as the required ground infrastructure, are to be deployed by 2015.
Apart from the main payload, the capacious and high-power Resurs-DK1 satellite stores instruments for scientific and applied research projects. For instance, the Pamela system scans the Universe for dark matter or hidden mass. Although dark-matter particles do not interact very often, Pamela has already registered more of these particles than all previous long-term observations taken together. Scientists hope to obtain the required results and to calculate particle mass before the satellite stops functioning three years from now.
Unfortunately, no full-fledged scientific satellites have been launched in Russia this year. So, Russian scientists have done their best to analyze the results of previous experiments and to conduct research aboard foreign spacecraft under international cooperation programs.
For example, they have priority rights for the use of 25% of observation time aboard the International Gamma Ray Astrophysics Laboratory (INTEGRAL), which has enabled them to find out the nature of the cosmic microwave background radiation spread evenly throughout the Milky Way galaxy. It turns out that the X-ray sources of such radiation are 100 times denser than had previously been believed. This Russian discovery rivals that of Galileo Galilei, who discovered 400 years ago that the Milky Way's brighter section comprises a multitude of dim stars.
Moreover, Russian scientists discovered quite a few very young and powerful X-ray sources, which were hidden from lower-power telescopes by stellar-wind clouds.
This year, Russia has continued to receive data from the Mars-Express and Venus-Express interplanetary probes, which make use of equipment made with active participation of Russian experts.
The Mars probe discovered water on the planet in the form of subsurface ice, findings which imply that water flowed on the Martian surface until only five years ago.
The Venus-Express has found out that the deuterium-hydrogen ratio in the planet's upper atmosphere is 150 times higher than that in the Earth's atmosphere. It can therefore be assumed that all water has vanished from the surface of Venus.
Four Spektr-class astrophysical orbital observatories will lift off under the 2006-2015 federal space program. The first such observatory, the Spektr-Radioastron, was supposed to go into orbit this year, but the launch has been rescheduled for late 2008. These delays can be explained by the fully-fledged crisis that plagued the Russian space program throughout the 1990s, whose consequences have not yet been completely overcome.
All astrophysical projects in the Spektr series were conceived during the Soviet era and meant to conduct research in the entire electromagnetic spectrum. Had this program been implemented in the 1990s as planned, then Russian science would now be a world leader.
Radioastron and the Spektr-RG, both of which could have lifted off in the mid-1990s, required heavy and expensive Proton launch vehicles. Russia's new economic situation, however, meant that it had to spend more time developing lighter space platforms that could be launched on cheaper Soyuz rockets.
There is now every reason to believe that the Spektr - Radioastron observatory will lift off in 2008 and operate in conjunction with a global ground instrument network. Known as radio interferometers, these combined systems have an impressive resolving power comparable to that of a radio telescope whose antenna diameter is equal to the distance between the system's ground and space instruments.
The Radioastron will orbit at a height of 350,000 km, so the radio interferometer's resolving power will therefore total a hundred-thousandth of an arc second, enabling it to observe even the smallest radio sources in the Universe.
The Spektr-UF observatory with an ultraviolet telescope will lift off in 2009-2010. NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, worth $6 billion, is now the largest and most expensive ultraviolet observation system ever. However, 50% of the telescope's observation time is lost due to its near-Earth orbit.
The Russian telescope will either be inserted into a highly elongated orbit with an apogee of 300,000 km or into the so-called libration point about 1.5 million km from the Earth and 148.5 million km from the Sun. Consequently, Earth-Moon influence, which hinders observations, will be minimized.
The Russian telescope is unique because Hubble will probably stop operating in the next two years, and the United States has no plans for launching the Space Ultraviolet Observatory before 2020. Other countries do not intend to orbit any large ultraviolet telescopes either. Russia's ultraviolet project is therefore a godsend for the global astronomy community because it will help eliminate numerous blank spots over the next decade.
This is good news for the Spektr-RG project, which was conceived in the early 1990s. The Russian Space Agency and the European Space Agency have decided to coordinate their X-ray and gamma-ray research under the joint Spektr-RG/eROSITA/Lobster program.
If successful, this program would make it possible to scan the entire sky by X-ray imaging telescopes in a broad energy band. The observatory is scheduled to lift off in 2011.
Yury Zaitsev is an expert at the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences