Difficulties and problems haunt the Russian satellite constellation, which on the whole is quite natural given its complexity and the situation that has developed in relations between the West and the Russian Federation.
And yet it requires more detailed consideration. On October 15, RIA Novosti, citing a source in the rocket and space industry, reported that the planned launch of the Glonass-M navigation satellite from Plesetsk was postponed to December 2, which was planned for November. "The launch has been postponed until December 2," the agency's interlocutor said, without specifying, however, the reason for this decision. Let us recall that they previously wanted to use the Soyuz-2.1b rocket with the Fregat upper stage as a carrier: most likely, they will be used in the end.
In principle, there is nothing of the kind in the postponement of rocket and space launches: this is a common phenomenon that can be seen in the United States, and in Russia, and even in China, which is now the leader in the number of rocket launches. Another thing is interesting.
This launch would be very useful, because due to technical failures, malfunctions and the expiration of their operational periods, some GLONASS satellites have failed, while others are close to ending their careers for the benefit of the Russian Federation.
The fact that the position of the system is frankly disastrous became especially clear in August of this year, when the Glonass-M spacecraft with number 745 became the third satellite of the constellation launched in August for temporary maintenance. Then TASS reported that 21 GLONASS satellites are used for their intended purpose, while 24 operating satellites are required for guaranteed global coverage.
In the same month, it became known that more than half of the GLONASS spacecraft operate outside the warranty period. In practice, this means that you can expect anything other than high reliability from them.
What is the reason for this state of affairs? As we can see, in November of this year, Glonass-M was to be launched - an old-design satellite that remained out of stock. This, of course, is not the first generation to have an estimated lifespan of three years (which is very short), but still. The guaranteed seven-year period of active existence clearly does not paint Glonass-M, especially when you consider that the lifetime of the American third-generation GPS satellite is fifteen years.
However, the main problem for GLONASS is not the nominal lifetime of spacecraft, but the fact that these spacecraft are simply not there. Earlier, Glonass-K was created to replace Glonass-M, which consisted of 90% Western electronic components. Now, due to conflicts with the West, Glonass-K has become a part of history: in total, two such vehicles were launched into orbit.
The forced successor was the "Glonass-K2", which, as it was announced earlier, will be "Russian". On June 28, 2018, the General Designer of the GLONASS system Sergey Karutin said that the development of the Glonass-K2 satellite was completed, but since then not a single launch of this type of apparatus has followed for some reason.
The problem, perhaps, lies in the constant reforms of the rocket and space industry, including in the uncertainties with the used carriers. “Due to the fact that the operation of the heavy Proton rockets is coming to an end, the use of the Angara rockets has not yet begun, and the Soyuz rockets can put into orbit only one Glonass-M or Glonass-K spacecraft,”it was decided to make small devices weighing up to 500 kilograms. In this case, Soyuz will be able to launch three spacecraft into orbit at once,”a source in the rocket and space industry said in April this year.
This is more than an interesting statement. It turns out that after the completion of the development of a new generation device was announced, it suddenly "turned out" to be too big. And this despite the fact that, as noted above, an update of the constellation of satellites is required today.
Perhaps he was referring to the promising Glonass-KM, which they want to launch from about the second half of the 2020s. However, in the light of current events, I don't really want to even remember this project.
Abroad won't help
Most likely, the problem lies not even in the carriers, but in the fact that the country was completely unprepared to replace Western electronics with its own.
“The defense industry complex also has other problems, both inherited from the Soviet past and those that have appeared relatively recently. The main one that arose during the Soviet era is the element base. Remember the joke that our microcircuits are the largest in the world? Since the times of the USSR, things have not been very good with the element base,”wrote Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, in October this year.
“And the short-term cooperation with the United States in the 1990s, including on the ISS, when electronics for space and defense were eagerly sold to us, finally ruined it. Then sanctions were imposed on Russia, the tap was turned off - and we were left without radio electronics at all."
Most likely, the specialist is right, if not 100, then 90%. Now, it is simply impossible to develop the space industry without cooperation with other countries, primarily Western ones. Unless, of course, you are not China, which has long been "overwhelmed". So we will hear about new plans, new ideas and, of course, new deadlines.
However, the situation can be viewed from the other side. In recent years, Russia has acquired conditional allies who are showing interest in new developments. “GLONASS, of course, is of great interest to everyone, - the Gulf countries are extremely interested in GLONASS and the placement of ground stations. Since, apparently, the geopolitical situation has changed so much in the region that it is hardly possible to rely on GPS alone,”said Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Russian space department, in October this year.
It is difficult to say how strongly the same Saudi Arabia or Kuwait (more likely American allies than Russian ones) will want to invest in GLONASS. In any case, Russia has its own petrodollars, and it is precisely technologies that even the richest states of the Persian Gulf do not possess.
If events developed in the 90s, the Russian satellite navigation system could be developed together with the PRC. However, now China has everything to move in this direction itself. It already has its own satellite system, Beidou, and not so long ago, the PRC announced that it had put into orbit an apparatus that is "the most high-tech in the field of satellite navigation." At the same time, the Chinese portal Sohu wrote earlier that the Russian system is "paralyzed", and the American GPS is the only competitor to Beidou. At the same time, the Chinese did not miss the opportunity to declare that the American system also has shortcomings: it, they say, is rapidly becoming obsolete. Even if we take the words of Chinese journalists on trust, GLONASS will not get any easier.