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First Belarusian space satellite to lift off soon

RIA Novosti

MOSCOW . (Yury Zaitsev for RIA Novosti) - The first Belarusian remote-sensing satellite BelKA (Belarusian Spacecraft), due to lift off on June 28, will relay high-resolution photos of the earth's surface to be used for economic, social and commercial needs.

This satellite, which was delivered for testing to the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan in early May, will lift off atop a three-stage Dnepr launch vehicle, a civilian version of the famous RS-20 (SS-18) Satan intercontinental ballistic missile.

Belarus ' National Academy of Sciences instructed Russia 's Energia Rocket and Space Corporation to develop the BelKA as a multi-purpose space platform, and Belarus itself has contributed state-of-the-art electronics and optical systems. The satellite's panchromatic cameras will take black-and-white images of the terrestrial surface with a resolution of two and a half meters from an altitude of 500 km, as well as multi-zone photos with a 10.5-meter resolution in four narrow spectral bands.

For comparison, Russia 's Monitor-E remote-sensing satellite of the same weight (750 kg), now being tested in orbit, has a panchromatic camera with an eight-meter resolution and can take photos with a resolution of 20 meters in the spectral mode.

True, the panchromatic camera of the new Russian spacecraft, the Resurs-DK1, takes pictures with a resolution of one meter or more, as well as pictures with a resolution of 2-3 meters in narrow spectral bands, but it weighs almost 8 times more, nearly six tons.

The BelKA, due to spend at least five years in orbit, features specialized LANDSAT-type equipment for monitoring the earth's environment and emergency situations, that can be switched on at least 1,000 times.

Belarusian experts have also created the entire ground infrastructure necessary for receiving and processing satellite data. Belarus ' National Academy of Sciences, Hydrometeorological Center and Forestry Ministry have already used such technology to process data from Russia 's Monitor and Meteor satellites.

Belarus has the required Soviet-era scientific and technological expertise for implementing expanded space-research programs. Russia and Belarus have been cooperating on space programs such as the Kosmos-BR and the Kosmos-SG since 1999. The first program (1999-2002) involved 16 specialized Russian organizations and ten Belarusian agencies; the second program, which got underway in 2004, involved over 50 design bureaus, production associations, and academic and scientific institutions from both countries, including Belarus ' OAO Peleng, NPO Integral, Belarusian State University , and the State University for Information Science and Radio Electronics. Research institutes specializing in molecular and atomic physics and heat and mass exchanges are also taking part in this program, which has helped create ground processing facilities for satellite data.

The development of descent-module heat shields in line with the Perspektiva project being implemented by Russia 's Federal Space Agency is a high-priority aspect of the Kosmos-SG program. For instance, the descent module for the advanced Phobos-Ground interplanetary probe, due to deliver soil samples from Phobos, a moon of Mars, would reenter the earth's atmosphere at a speed of 11 km per second and reach temperatures of several thousand degrees centigrade. Consequently, the capsule with the soil sample should be dependably protected. Russian and Belarusian experts are currently trying to cope with this challenge. They are using the world's only toroidal Hall accelerator to develop effective heat shields by simulating the reentry environment of almost any planet.

Work is proceeding apace on plans for the Kosmos-NT program, the third stage of Russian-Belarusian space cooperation, because the Kosmos-SG program will be completed in 2007. Coordinating the new program's aspects will take about two years.

One of this project's goals is to build a streamlined and user-friendly Russian-Belarusian satellite-data processing network by introducing common standards, formats and technologies in 2008-2011.

The new program will also aim to design mini-satellites, micro-satellites and related on-board and ground equipment. It is worth mentioning that many of the Belarusian projects in this sphere have no analogues in the world.

The creation of modern satellite-navigation equipment is another important aspect of this program. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that 24 spacecraft of the Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS) satellite cluster must be deployed by late 2009. Judging by the statements of Russia 's Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, this goal will be achieved. But there may be some problems with ground infrastructure elements and production of the required number of user terminals. Russia would therefore like Belarus to use its impressive scientific, technological, and production capabilities to help Russia design and manufacture such equipment.

Yury Zaitsev is expert at the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

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