Russia is planning to develop a unique satellite system to monitor climatic changes and survey energy resources in the Arctic region, Russia's top space official said on Thursday.
The Arctica satellite grouping will monitor the weather and environment of the North Pole, pinpoint hydrocarbon deposits on the Arctic shelf, provide telecommunications over the hard-to-access areas and ensure safe air traffic and commercial shipping in the region.
"The creation of the Arctica system will not only allow us to monitor the ecology of the shelf, the water temperatures, the thickness of the ice floe and the pollution levels all year round, but will also ensure the effectiveness and safety of the exploration of the [Arctic] shelf for our and foreign companies," said Anatoly Perminov, the head of the Russian Federal Space Agency Roscosmos.
He said the project would cost about 68 billion rubles ($2.3 billion), but half of the funding could from private investment and potential foreign partners.
The basic configuration of the system envisions two sun-synchronous orbit satellites and two high-elliptic orbit satellites for remote sensing and ecological monitoring of the region.
"If we start the work on the system today using the results of the previous research and development, the first of the four satellites could be put into orbit in three years," Perminov said.
Additional satellites will provide telecommunications services across the Arctic, which will be in demand as energy companies expand their operations in the region, attracted by the vast hydrocarbon deposits that will become more accessible as rising global temperatures lead to a reduction in sea ice.
The potential riches on offer have brought the Arctic to the center of geopolitical wrangling between the United States, Russia, Canada, Norway, and Denmark.
Under international law, each of the five Arctic Circle countries has a 322-kilometer (200-mile) exclusive economic zone in the Arctic Ocean.
However, under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, if a country can show its continental shelf extends beyond the 200-mile limit, it can claim a right to more of the ocean floor.
Russia has undertaken two Arctic expeditions - to the Mendeleyev underwater chain in 2005 and to the Lomonosov Ridge in the summer of 2007 - to support its territorial claims in the region.
It first claimed the territory in 2001, but the United Nations demanded more conclusive evidence.
Russia has said it will invest some 1.5 billion rubles ($50 million) in defining the extent of its continental shelf in the Arctic in 2010.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin reiterated on Thursday while visiting the Franz Josef Land, an archipelago in the far north of Russia, that the country has "profound geopolitical interests" in the Arctic region.
MOSCOW, April 29 (RIA Novosti)