Disaster monitoring craft among Kosmos 3M cargo

Posted: September 27, 2003

A cluster of small satellites rocketed into orbit today to embark on a wide range of missions for a number of organizations spanning the globe.

Liftoff of the Kosmos 3M rocket from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in far northern Russia was delayed 24 hours due to troubles with the launch pad's automatic fueling system.

The Kosmos 3M rocket is erected on the launch pad in advance of today's mission. Credit: SSTL
Among the menagerie of satellites hitching a ride to space was a trio of small craft destined to join the disaster monitoring constellation, an international consortium headed by Surrey Satellite Technology Limited of the United Kingdom.

The three new additions to the constellation will join the Algerian AlSat-1 satellite already in space after its launch 10 months ago. Together with at least one more Surrey-built DMC spacecraft for China that remains to be launched, the quartet now in orbit will operate in the years ahead to keep tabs on natural and man-made disasters ranging from hurricanes and earthquakes to terrorist attacks.

"Algeria has already tapped in to a wealth of available applications such as geological and structural mapping, agricultural damage and yield data, land cover mapping and has also provided images of the Monserrat volcanic eruption to the International Charter," Surrey officials said.

With the capability to revisit any location on Earth on a daily basis, the fleet can regularly monitor emergencies and catastrophes on behalf of the officials responsible for planning response and clean-up activities.

The three DMC satellites launched today represent the contributions of Turkey, Nigeria, and the United Kingdom to the constellation. BilSat-1 -- a 286-pound spacecraft for Turkey -- has a color resolution of about 26 meters and a black-and-white resolution of four meters. The NigeriaSat-1 and UK-DMC satellites also both have medium resolution capabilities.

"The constellation of SSTL-built satellites, when fully operational later this year, will allow DMC consortium members to retrieve 32-meter images of any point on the Earth in less than 24 hours -- a service not presently available from any civil remote sensing system," said a Surrey spokeswoman.

Plans call for a next-generation disaster monitoring constellation to be developed and put into service at some point in the future with higher resolution imagery, but officials say a timetable and specifics will not be available for some time.

Another payload aboard the Kosmos rocket was the $13 million STSat-1 science and technology demonstration satellite, the first scientific space mission for the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology of South Korea.

STSat-1, also known at KAISTSat-4, carries five instruments, one of which was developed at the University of California at Berkeley under $1.5 million in funding from NASA. The Spectroscopy of Plasma Evolution from Astrophysical Radiation, or SPEAR, instrument will image hot and glowing gas throughout the Milky Way galaxy to help gauge the changes the galaxy has undergone throughout its history.

The craft will spend a year conducting a tedious full-sky survey in the far ultraviolet wavelength, followed the next year by individual observations of locations in the sky that are of particular interest to astronomers.

In addition to celestial observations, STSat-1 will also study the relationship between the Earth and the Sun as it captures ultraviolet emissions from auroral activity above the planet's polar regions. STSat-1 also features a number of commercial off-the-shelf technologies whose behavior and performance will be closely monitored throughout the mission.

Two Russian satellites also rode to orbit today. Mozhayets 4 was built by students at the Mozhaiski Aerospace Academy in St. Petersburg. Another spacecraft, known as Larets, will be used to attune ground radars, Russian media reports said.

Staying attached to the Kosmos 3M upper stage was Rubin 4, an experiment designed to transmit data on the rocket's performance -- such as position, velocity, and acceleration -- to the ground by e-mail via the Orbcomm communications network.

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