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Russia looks to microsatellites for science and shipping

Like Sputnik, only better

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Russia is showing interest in the growing push to design and launch microsatellites, according to Voice of Russia.

The news site says Russia’s Space Systems Company hopes that microsats – satellites which, like its original Sputnik, weigh less than 100kg but are much more capable – can gather data to help predict natural disasters and monitor shipping movements.

The company’s head, Yuri Urlichich, is quoted by Voice of Russia as claiming that RSSC detected a surge in free electrons in the ionosphere, seven hours ahead of last year’s disastrous Japan earthquake. He suggests that microsatellites would be a better way of collecting such data than trying to establish earth-bound monitoring stations to try and predict earthquakes.

The other application identified by Urlichich is to identify ships in proximity to each other, to make passage of narrow straits easier and safer.

Microsatellites – satellites weighing less than 100kg – are attracting increasing attention as shrinking and lower-power electronics reduces the bulk of systems that satellites have to carry. They bring their own challenges, however, since their small size reduces the availability of the fuel needed for maneuvers to keep the satellite on-station.

That hasn’t stopped growing international interest in applications of microsatellites, since at 100kg or less, they’re much cheaper to send to space than satellites weighing tons. For example, a microsatellite system is proposed as a solution to the looming bandwidth crunch in the Antarctic, with increasing scientific activity generating more data just as the ageing satellites now serving the frozen continent approaching their end of life. ®

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