SatComRus 2015 is a mix of the optimistic and the pragmatic. There is little doubt that the economic sanctions inflicted on Russia are starting to bite, and this is being keenly felt in the space industry. With the ruble losing value, and companies like RSCC and Gazprom Space Systems doing more international business than ever before, they are now operating in challenging circumstances. Yet, there is an optimism that space can play a key role in driving the Russian economy, and connect the unconnected.
The opening panel of SatComRus is always a highlight. It is a blaze of many characters in the country’s satellite industry, and no doubt one of the busiest panels of the conference with no fewer than nine speakers and a moderator. Part of me is pleased I don’t have to moderate such a big panel!
Yuri Prokhorov, director general at RSCC, says the company has managed to achieve a lot over the last five years and has fulfilled its obligations under the 2010-2015 Federal plan, which the government laid out for the company. Prokhorov says RSCC has spent 60.9 billion rubles ($982 million) to develop infrastructure, of which 27.9 billion rubles ($449 million) went to ground facilities. The satellite control centers in the east and the center of the country are now providing broadcasting services. RSCC is also responsible for providing telecoms services on the island on Spitzbergen in the Arctic region. Prokhorov also told the attendees at SatComRus that the company has new plans to bring satellite broadband to central Russia and in the Ural region of the country.
This year, RSCC has started using its AM 5 satellite to provide Ka-band services and has developed a program to build out the orbital fleet from 2017 to 2025. “By 2025, the capacity in C-band and Ka-band, we will grow by a factor of 1.5. We will require funding of 286 billion rubles ($4.62 billion) for this program — it will be public and private funding; we will increase the numbers of payloads to provide services to government needs; and we will need high elliptical orbit satellites to cover the satellites of the entire Russian Federation, this will make it possible to set up telephony services. Small mobile terminals will also have to be developed,” Prokhorov added.
Independent Space Policy
The backdrop of Russia’s place in the space world was a theme throughout the opening panel, and the key message was that, in difficult times, Russia must develop its own space industry. Oleg Dukhovnitsky, head of the federal communications agency, admitted that Russia now faces new challenges, and that the country needs to switch to more domestically produced components. He also spoke about developing young talent in the country and building up skills and expertise in this area. “Thirty percent of RSCC personnel have been through upgrade courses. Nine university graduates have joined RSCC this year,” Dukhovnitsky said.
However, while Russia needs to look inwardly, key players in the country still want to forge close relationships with the Western Hemisphere. “Traditionally, RSCC has worked very closely with international partners. We should cultivate our relations with companies in the West,” Dukhovnitsky added.
The theme of an independent space policy was something that touched on many speakers’ comments. Mikhail Khaylov, deputy head of the Russian space agency said the leaders of the country have set executives in the space industry with the task of having an independent policy in space. “We don’t have a wartime economy, we have a market economy; it is all directed for consolidation, unification and standardization. We have to create space, we have to create communications hardware, we have to create by funding them from the sources that are not less than our competitors, we have to bring down prices,” he said. “As for our national space program, it should be adopted by the end of the year. The main thing is not to create obstacles.”
One of the main speakers at SatComRus is Igor Chursin, deputy head of the Russian federal communications agency, who once again spoke of Russia’s need to develop the space industry. He said the federal program is on target, and that the next stage of Russia’s space program is awaiting approval. The draft was developed for main strategic documents for social and economic development of Russia, as well as national security of Russia, he said.
“We want a stable functioning of the in-orbit satellites, we want to maximize space efficiency. We plan to build seven satellites for GEO and four for highly elliptical orbits. The main results would be integration into a common structure. It is the maintenance of our leadership of building satellite vehicles. We want to involve more end users into this space. We would like to initiate Russian innovations in the manufacturing of products and components. We would like to envisage some new opportunities for market components. We believe we can create Russian hardware that can create imported components,” Chursin added.
Gazprom Space Systems, like RSCC, is also looking to develop more internally going forward. Nikolay Sevastiyanov, general designer of Gazprom Space Systems, said the company had a number of specific projects it was working on. He said Gazprom has decided to put in place an assembly type production, and that it will design its own payloads. “We would like to have our own factory. In 2019, it will be up and running, we have land allocated for that to start building this factory. We expect since we have our design bureau, we will assemble satellites. We will still participate in tender activities. We expect to have partners. We want to focus on the payloads,” he said.
With a weak ruble and ambitious space projects over the next 10 years, one of the key elements will be funding. Oleg Demidov, director of innovations and high technologies at Vnesheconombank (VEB),gave an interesting financial perspective at the event. He said VEB could fund projects with up to 20 billion rubles for funding of all the projects. He admitted that RSCC’s next program needing funding of 286 billion rubles is a “colossal” amount. He spoke of the need for each satellite to be cost effective. At the moment, VEB can only fund 20 billion rubles for each project, but Demidov is keen to see this upper limit increased.
HTS and LEO
The subject of small satellites was perhaps surprisingly not a huge topic at the conference, especially given how it has been such a major topic at virtually every other major satellite event this year. Maxim Mysev, Mincomsvyaz, deputy director at the Department for Infrastructure Projects, was the one speaker who really delved into the potential of LEO satellites in Russia saying that it deserved the industry’s attention.
“We should take a sober minded view. These small satellites are not very financially viable, and continuity of service replacing medium and large satellites is impossible. Of late, we have been getting proposals from various companies for small satellites. But, these satellites have not been thought through. We need to find a niche that maybe fitting for particular projects. Another element that is not usually worked through is orbital resources. They are not based on GEO. The question of coordination becomes a crucial one worldwide,” he added.
With its huge geography, and lack of terrestrial infrastructure, Russia remains a market like pretty much no other in the world. Andrey Shestakov, director general at ZAO Energia Telecom, said High Throughput Satellites (HTS) could make a difference even if terrestrial technology was becoming more prevalent in the country. “We have been working on HTS. They have had very good results. We have a HTS satellite getting ready for launch next year.We have to know that satellite communications in the Russian market is losing its current position. We are building fiber optic lines,” he says. “We have cables reaching satellites cities like Magadan. We will see that satellite communications are gaining the status of the secondary option. There are 102,000 small settlements, which have 5 million people. Satellite is the only way to provide these facilities. HTS can do the job.”
The main international speaker at SatComRus was Eutelsat’s now outgoing CEO, Michel de Rosen, who spoke of the company’s special affinity with Russia. De Rosen, always a charismatic public speaker, outlined a number of messages to the Russian space market, with the key themes that space was now entering a new “golden age,” and that the industry as a whole must recognize Russia’s extraordinary contribution to space. It was a message of hope at a time when the country’s industry faces unique challenges.
“Satellite manufacturers are prepared to take bold steps. Electric propulsion, for example, is a valuable direction. The technical progress is quite striking. We also expect to see further developments in HTS in throughput and launch. Ka-Sat will be dwarfed by future satellites. We will go into the 1TB era. We will see software-driven satellites. It is exciting for engineering teams. For our customers, this is exactly what they want,” he said. “We will move toward software controls as and when the client wants. This will enable satellites to reach a new level of competitiveness.… Satellites can accelerate the development of the IOT market.”
A Russian Love Story in the Satellite Industry
In the early part of the last century, Alexander Alexandrovitch Stakhovitch — whose family were neighbors and close friends of the famous writer Leo Tolstoy — was a young officer of the Imperial Guard’s Preobrajensky regiment; he met a young lady, Anastassia SerguevnaIgnatius. She fell in love with him but he did not feel the same. Alexander Alexandrovitch met another woman,Maria Vladimirovna Andrevski, fell in love with her, and married her. However, tragedy would strike. What should have been the happiest moment of his life, the birth of his first child, ended up tragically with both his wife and newborn child dying at the same time.
Alexander Alexandrovitch would go on to fight in the Russian Revolution for the White Army. Someday, he got caught and was shot. Left dead, he was saved by a Red Army soldier. He managed to cling to life and went back to fight.
The White Army fought and retreated through Siberia. The story of Alexander Alexandrovitch would go from the battlefield of Russia to an unexpected twist in China. He found himself in Kharbine, China, where, through fate, he bumped into Anastassia Serguevna Ignatius, the woman he had originally turned down. She still loved him. He was so impressed by the strength of her love that he decided to marry her. They moved to Paris, like many White Army soldiers, and had four children. Life had finally smiled on Alexander Alexandrovitch Stakhovitch. One of their grandchildren is Michel de Rosen. VS
Mark Holmes is the editorial director for Via satellite magazine and Avionics Magazine.