The Arktika-M satellite. Credit: NPO Lavockin

Arktika-M: The Eye On The Arctic

Russia launched the second satellite of Arktika-M, a constellation that constantly monitors the Arctic providing communications and environmental surveillance

On Dec.16, 2023, at 09:17 UTC, the second satellite of the Arktika-M constellation was successfully launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. The Arktika satellites, ten satellites in a total of four different types, will guarantee environmental, meteorological, and strategic monitoring as well as provide constant coverage of civil, military, and emergency communication systems.

Liftoff of the Soyuz-2.1b carrying the second Arkitka-M satellite. Credits: Roscosmos

Thousands of kilometers of territory of the Russian Federation are located in the Arctic Circle area. Hence the need to create, unique in the world, a constellation of satellites that can constantly monitor the Arctic area.


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The origins of the project

The Arktika project began to be discussed at the end of 2007 following a visit by then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to the islands of the Franz Joseph archipelago.Starting from an already well-tested hardware base, that of the Elektro-L meteorological satellite, the Arktika-M series satellites would have had differentiated roles and orbits depending on the sector of use for which they would have been intended.

The second Arktika-M satellite during assembly. Credit: NPO Lavochkin
The second Arktika-M satellite during assembly. Credits: NPO Lavochkin

Four types of satellites, three different orbits

To ensure that at least one of the ten satellites planned is visible on the horizon, guaranteeing the constant connection of the Arctic areas with the rest of Russia, it was decided to use four different classes of satellites positioned in three different orbits: Arktika-M, Arktika -MS1, Arktika-MS2, and Arktika-R.

The Arktika-M satellite. Credit: NPO Lavockin
The Arktika-M satellite. Credits: NPO Lavockin

The two planned M class satellites, of which the first was launched on Feb. 28, 2021, are equipped with a multispectral camera called MSU-GSM and transmitters for the hydrometeorological service and the emergency service for marine and air navigation. They are positioned in the so-called Molniya orbit, i.e. an elliptical orbit with high eccentricity, with apogee at 40,000 km and perigee at 1,000 km altitude.

The three satellites of the MS1 class and the three satellites of the MS2 class will be placed in an orbit inclined by 63° on the Equator with apogee positioned at 50,000 km altitude. They will have exclusively telecommunications functions: the MS1s will serve the network called Polyarnaya Zvezda (North Star), while the MS2s will also have connection functions between the GPS and GLONASS networks.

The latest class of Arktika satellites, the two Arktika-R satellites, will be placed in a 98° inclined sun-synchronous orbit with an apogee between 550 and 750 km altitude. They will be mainly dedicated to environmental monitoring, such as controlling the thickness of the ice surface, measuring sea water temperature, and monitoring air pollution.

They carry an imaging radar capable of providing images with a resolution of less than one meter.

The Arktika constellation and its ground stations. Credit: NPO Lavochkin
The Arktika constellation and its ground stations. Credits: NPO Lavochkin

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A great listening network

Each class of the Arktika constellation will have its listening network on the ground.

The five main listening sites located in Moscow, Novosibirsk, Khabarovsk, Tiksi, and Barentsburg will be joined by more than 100 regional listening stations throughout the Russian Federation.

The information obtained from the constellation, in addition to being intended for all interested federal offices, will be made available to the international scientific community thanks to the network of member states of the WMO, World Meteorological Organization.

Roberto Paradiso

Roberto Paradiso

Banker with a passion for cosmonautics, he tells in his blog, "Le storie di Kosmonautika" and in the book "Noi abbiamo usato le matite!" the history and stories of the Soviet and Russian space program and the people who made it.

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