The Russian version of “Starlink” is here
The old driver has introduced the “Starlink” satellite constellation of SpaceX of the United States many times before, especially its outstanding performance in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, which has become a “thorn in the eyes” of the Russian army. But the problem is that the number of “Starlink” satellites is large and the price is cheap, and they are not afraid of a hard attack by the Russian army – SpaceX CEO Musk even threatened that the launch speed of “Starlink” satellites is faster than the destruction speed of opponents; and it is The rapid software upgrade strategy using Internet thinking has repeatedly thwarted Russian hacking methods.
After eating enough of the losses of “Star Chain”, it is very natural for Russia, as a aerospace power, to launch similar products. According to the introduction from Russia, Russia has proposed a corresponding “sphere” satellite constellation. The latter consists of more than 600 satellites. Although this number cannot be compared with the huge scale of the “Starlink” of up to 12,000 satellites, it can be considered a considerable amount of money, and their functions are more complex.
“Sphere” satellite constellation
According to Dmitry Rogozin, the former general manager of the Russian National Aerospace Corporation, the “Sphere” satellite constellation project includes a variety of satellites operating at different altitudes, with different functions such as satellite communication services and earth observation, so that Russia has “The Most Modern Space Communication and Surveillance System”.
The “Scythian-D” satellite launched on the 22nd has a mass of less than 200 kilograms, a power consumption of about 250 watts, and an effective lifespan of 3 years. It belongs to the “Scythian” broadband Internet satellite system, which is close to the “Starlink” function. It is said that since the Russian Internet satellite constellation operates at an orbital altitude of 870 kilometers, which is higher than the operating altitude of the American “Star Chain”, and the main service objects are concentrated near Russia, only 288 satellites are needed to provide services around Russia, especially on the ground. Broadband Internet access and communications services are provided along Arctic shipping routes with few communications infrastructure.
But the “Sphere” satellite constellation doesn’t stop there. It also includes two series of high-end communication satellites “Express” and “Yamal” in geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometers above the ground. In addition, there is the “Express-RV” communication satellite operating in a highly elliptical orbit, which is mainly used to provide Arctic Internet services. The first satellite is expected to be launched by the end of 2025.
In addition, the “Sphere” satellite constellation also includes the “Marathon” series of satellites for the Internet of Things. IoT devices have stringent requirements on network connections with high bandwidth and low latency, so the “Marathon” series of satellites operate at the lowest orbital altitudes.
It is said that Russia will also try to test the latest technologies such as laser communication between these satellites operating in different orbits to improve data transmission capabilities.
Different from “Starlink”, the “Sphere” satellite constellation also includes “Review” Earth remote sensing satellites and “Golden Eagle” Earth observation satellites. Rogozin said the satellites would use the same satellite platform but would be equipped with different radar and optical sensors that “will allow us to see the ground at night and through clouds and fog.”
It can be seen that the “Sphere” satellite constellation cannot be simply described as the Russian version of “Starlink”, its composition and functions are much more complex. In fact, the relevant plan was submitted to the Russian government as early as 2018. It comprehensively integrates the various satellites scattered in the Russian space system and condenses Russia’s ambition to restructure its spaceflight.
But it must be emphasized that although the first experimental satellite has been launched, Russia’s “Sphere” satellite constellation may still face huge challenges.
The first is money – aerospace engineering is inherently a “high-risk” and “high-investment” industry. Roscosmos has estimated that the project will cost 1.5 trillion rubles (about 24.3 billion U.S. dollars), far beyond what Russia can afford. After several setbacks, at the end of 2021, the Russian government confirmed that the total allocation for the “Sphere” satellite constellation will be 180 billion rubles (about 2.9 billion US dollars). According to the plan, the government will provide 14 billion rubles for the project in 2022, 18 billion rubles in 2023 and 2024, and 8.5 billion rubles in 2025. In order to make up for the lack of funds, the project also needs to raise funds through the introduction of private enterprises and venture capital.
According to the experience of “Starlink” satellites, the construction and launch of satellites is only the beginning of “spending money like water”, and the real bulk is concentrated in the operation stage. Musk recently claimed that just to ensure the normal use of 20,000 sets of “Starlink” ground terminals in Ukraine, it will cost tens of millions of dollars every month… For the Russian space sector, which is struggling with funds, such “burning money” I’m afraid it can’t be fun.
In addition, Russian aerospace experts disclosed in 2021 that more than 70% of the components of Russian civil communication satellites come from abroad. Against the background of the current unprecedented sanctions against Russia, how to increase the localization rate of Russian satellites is also an insurmountable problem in a short period of time.