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Russia plans star-mapping satellite

Following European Hipparcos and Gaia satellites designed to catalog stars in the Milky Way galaxy, the Russian space program called for the development of its own astrometric spacecraft. If ever built, it could expand the research of the Gaia satellite in the 2020s.


Above: Launch scenario of the Russian astrometric mission. Credit: INASAN

Previous chapter: Gaia mission

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In 1993, Oleg Efimovich Shornikov, an astronomer at Kazan Optical-Mechanical Plant, KOMZ, proposed a space-based optical interferometer, or a dual telescope, which enables to pinpoint very distant sources of light with a very high precision. The method promised to benefit the astrometry, the branch of astronomy focused on mapping the location and movement of celestial bodies, primarily stars. At the same time, the Astronomy Institute, INASAN, of the Russian Academy of Sciences embarked on the development of a similar telescope, known as Zodiak, which would be installed on the manned space station. With the US-Russian agreement on the International Space Station, ISS, in 1993, plans were made for a joint US-Russian development of such a device, which could be installed on the ISS' service module.

From 1995 to 1999, INASAN also considered the development of the all-Russian astrometrical satellite dubbed Oziris. The Russian aviation and space agency, Rosaviakosmos, issued a contract for the development of the project in 2000, however, apparently provided little funding. From 2003, INASAN also researched the possibility of using astrometric interferometer for navigational purposes on Earth and in space and for laser communications between the Earth surface and orbit.

Apparently in the effort to cut costs, in 2005, INASAN started working on a lighter version of the interferometer for astrometry under a code-name LIDA. It could be launched by a Dnepr booster with a newly developed Varyag upper stage into a Sun-synchronous orbit. It would be used for "real-time positioning of ground-based and space-based objects" and for laser communications. When deployed in orbit, LIDA's interferometer would reach a span of two meters.

Ironically, Russian developers apparently continued relying on interferometry, even though their European colleagues had concluded in the 1990s, that it would be the wrong way for the astrometric research. During 2000s, various Russian plans to develop space-based astrometry hardware received an "umbrella" name "Astrometria" (Astrometry).

According to the project's web site, the spacecraft would enable to determine coordinates of stars with a precision of 10 microarcseconds, or 100 times higher than existing ground-based methods. The site also claimed that such measurements would enable to determine distance to "any star in the Galaxy and in its vicinity"!

As of mid-2000s, the Astrometria spacecraft was to be based on the Navigator platform developed at NPO Lavochkin. As of 2009, the Astrometria mission was promised to reach the launch pad in 2018 (677), however within a year these plans were pushed to 2020 at the earliest. (434) The spacecraft was designed to function in orbit from 7 to 10 years.

Astrometry on the Moon?

In August 2014, Head of Roskosmos Oleg Ostapenko and Director of Kazan Federal University, KFU, Ilshat Gafurov signed a broad cooperation agreement that included joint development of an astrometric observatory on the surface of the Moon! No details on the project were provided and it was unclear whether the project with such an extremely remote implementation date had signified any progress for Russia's previous space-based astrometric payloads.



Participants in the Astrometria project:

Astronomy Institute , INASAN, of the Russian Academy of Sciences, RAN
Science program developer
Shternberg State Astronomy Institute of the Moscow State University, MGU
Vavilov GOI
Space Research Institute, IKI, of the Russian Academy of Sciences, RAN
NPO Lavochkin
Prime developer of spacecraft
NTTs Voskhod
Prime developer of scientific payload
NTTs Reagent


Next chapter: Spektr-RG mission

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Page author: Anatoly Zak

Last update: August 8, 2014

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The heavy interferometer designed for a manned space station or a large spacecraft. Credit: INASAN


A concept of the astrometric satellite in deployed position in orbit. Credit: INASAN


A compact version of the astrometric interferometer known as LIDA under a payload fairing of a converted ballistic missile. Credit: NPO Lavochkin


An alternative design version of the Oziris satellite. Credit: INASAN