Glonass nearing completion

The outgoing year may prove decisive for the future of Russia’s Glonass satellite navigation system, currently under development by the Federal Space Agency and the Russian Space Systems corporation. If everything goes according to plan, the Glonass constellation will finally reach the size required for providing global signal availability.

Current status
As of mid-October 2010, the Glonass constellation included 26 satellites. Only 21 of these were operational; three were in maintenance and another two were spares. The latest additions had been spacecraft Nos. 736, 737, and 738, launched on board a Proton-M from Baykonur Cosmodrome on September 2, 2010.
The number of operational Glonass satellites has grown by three since the middle of 2009. This is close to the intended size of the constellation, which is to include at least 24 satellites constantly operating in three dimensions, in orbits of 19,100 km altitude and 64.8 deg inclination, plus up to six spares. To ensure global navigation coverage, at least four satellites must be in view from any point on the globe at any given time: three to determine the exact location of the receiver, and the fourth one to synchronize the clocks of the user’s receiver and the other three spacecraft.
Primarily intended for use by the Soviet, and later Russian, armed forces, Glonass was started on October 12, 1982 with the orbiting of the first Uragan satellite. The system was officially put into operation with 12 satellites in autumn 1993. By December 1995 the Glonass constellation had reached its design size of 24 operational satellites. However, shortly afterwards the system’s functionality started to degrade due to funding shortages and the insufficient service life of the first-generation satellites. The number of operational craft dropped to just six by 2001, making the system’s proper use impossible.
In the meantime, the military operations in Yugoslavia in 1999 and Iraq in 2003 clearly demonstrated that a country without satellite technologies of its own is doomed to lose in a contemporary armed conflict. What is more, such technologies - not least in the area of satellite navigation - have laid the foundation of a whole new multibillion-dollar market for commercial space services. Satellite navigators - along with telecom systems - have facilitated a dramatic increase in the effectiveness of overland, air and sea transport. Another important consideration is that to ordinary people these gadgets became a tangible proof of how space exploration can really pay off. Until recently, Russia lagged far behind developed countries in commercially available products of space research.
The government realized this fact, and adopted a federal program for global satellite navigation in August 2001 which called for Glonass signal to become available anywhere in Russia by early 2008, and then globally by the beginning of 2010. Unfortunately, despite the program being personally supervised by then-President Vladimir Putin, this schedule slipped.
There is a chance, however, that by the end of this year Glonass will finally become a truly global system. This requires orbiting another four navigation satellites. A Proton-M launch vehicle is scheduled to lift off from Baykonur with three Glonass-M satellites on December 5. On December 24, a Soyuz-2-1B from Plesetsk Cosmo­drome is to deliver a new-generation Glonass-K to orbit.

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