Tough Times for Russian Navigation System - GPS World

Tough Times for Russian Navigation System

The Russian satellite navigation system is experiencing tough times as Western sanctions and Russia’s ever-growing international isolation seriously complicate its further development.

Prior to Feb. 24, 2022, when Russia invaded Ukraine, Russia’s navigation sector was developing well and had a healthy growth rate, which is reflected by the steady growth and improved performance of its satellite constellations. However, the start of Russia’s war with Ukraine and the consequent international sanctions regime against Russia has put an end to the hopes for further development of the sector and especially of its flagship GLONASS global navigation satellite system (GNSS).

As for GLONASS, as academician Nikolai Testoedov, general designer of JSC Information Satellite Systems Reshetnev, one of Russia’s leading satellite manufacturing companies, said during a general meeting of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the main problem is that Western sanctions do not allow Russia to bring its positioning accuracy to the desired 30 cm or at least 50 cm.

According to Testoedov, the main reasons for this are serious problems with the supplies of electronic components, most of which Russia traditionally imported. “Until 2014, when the first sanction restrictions were introduced, the share of imports in Russia’s entire satellite constellations reached 42%,” Testoedov said. “Currently we implement a strategy of import substitution in the sector, which is designed until 2030 and involves a transition to 100% domestic products. As of 2014, we had 6,000 electronic components of foreign origin. Since 2014, a lot of work has been done to combine various equipment. Now, it is used in Russia’s satellite constellations.”

It has already brought some results. According to Ivan Revnivyh, head of the GLONASS department of the Russian space corporation Roscosmos, thanks to the new satellites that have been launched in recent years, the accuracy of GLONASS civil signals has increased up to 1.32 meters. According to Revnivyh, Russia plans to continue work in this direction as part of its existing federal project “Maintenance, development and use of the GLONASS system,” which intends to increase the accuracy of the signals up to 0.3 m.

Russia plans to continue to improve GLONASS’s accuracy until it matches that of other GNSS and meets International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) requirements.

“When landing a civil aircraft at unequipped airfields,” Testoedov said, “the signal should arrive with a delay of no more than 6 seconds, with an accuracy of no worse than half a meter.”

Despite the sanctions, Russia plans to continue to develop GLONASS. As part of these plans, starting from 2025, it plans to launch modernized GLONASS-K2 satellites in an import-substituted and multifunctional version. Thanks to this, the signal will be 100 times more powerful than the standard one. That will be primarily achieved by using dedicated navigation satellites weighing about 1 ton.

After 2030, Russia also plans to place six satellites in geosynchronous orbits (about 36,000 km), which will increase the availability of the signal in Russian cities and difficult terrains.

There are also plans to create a constellation of 300 satellites in low-Earth-orbit (LEO) at an altitude of 500 to 100 km. They are expected to increase the strength Russian satellite signals by more than 1,000 times.

In recent years, Russia has faced restrictive policies implemented by various international bodies, including the International Bureau of Weights and Measures and the International Association of Geodesy. According to Russian experts, many of these bodies are currently taking discriminatory measures against Russian systems and technologies.

In this regard, Russia plans to propose to the countries members of BRICS — an intergovernmental organization comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates — to design products and systems whose characteristics will be comparable to those of Western origin. According to Reshetnev Systems’ experts, however, this could improve results — mainly, accuracy — by only 20 percent, which would not be critical for Russia.

GLONASS, which first achieved a full constellation of 24 satellites in 1995, currently consists of 24 satellites of three types: GLONASS-M, which has been produced since 2003, GLONASS-K which has been produced since 2011, and two GLONASS-K2, which Russia launched in 2023. All the satellites are part of the Cospas-Sarsat system.

Despite the fact that the life expectancy for most Russian GLONASS satellites is seven to 10 years, many of them, according to Testoedov, are already more than twice as old. Russia plans to replace at least six GLONASS satellites within the next two to three years. In the first years of launching the constellation, Roscosmos usually launched nine satellites into orbit at once; currently, it is launching only one or two at a time.

Still, it is possible that these rates will increase significantly, as by 2030 Russia plans to increase its constellation of satellites by up to 1,000 satellites. For this purpose, the country plans to produce 200-250 satellites per year.

According to the head of Roscosmos, Yury Borisov, space industry enterprises should produce one satellite per day by 2030. According to him, the Russian Federation is ready to learn from the experience of other countries in this area, such as China.

About the Author: Eugene Gerden

Eugene Gerden is an international freelance writer who specializes in covering the global navigation sector.

About the Author: Eugene Gerden

Eugene Gerden is an international freelance writer who specializes in covering the global navigation sector.