A Russian Soyuz rocket launched a civilian Earth observation satellite into orbit today to begin a three-year mission to keep tabs on natural resources and emergencies from space for both government and commercial users. The payload was the first such craft launched since 1999.
The three-stage Soyuz rocket lifted off at 0800 GMT (4:00 a.m. EDT) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in central Kazakhstan. The almost 15,000-pound Resurs DK1 spacecraft successfully separated from the Soyuz upper stage less than nine minutes later in an orbit with an apogee of approximately 230 miles, a perigee of around 125 miles, and an inclination of about 70 degrees.
The newest member of the Resurs satellite fleet is the first in an upgraded series of spacecraft with improved capabilities in imaging resolution and communications. Resurs DK1 will offer one-meter resolution images in black-and-white and a resolution of up to two meters in color. Unlike most earlier Russian civilian remote sensing craft, Resurs DK1 carries an advanced communications system to quickly downlink recent images to ground stations.
Earlier Resurs satellites featured a descent capsule that was designed to ferry film from on-board cameras back to Earth for recovery. These missions often lasted less than a month, and it sometimes took weeks for scientists and other officials to retrieve and analyze data gathered by the spacecraft. Resurs DK1 drastically reduces this lag time from days and weeks to minutes and hours.
An area of up to 270,000 square miles can be documented in just one day by the new observation bird.
Images from Resurs DK1 will be used by Russian government agencies, international groups, and even sold commercially to private customers. It is expected that the images will help shed light on the usage of natural resources, all types of environmental pollution, and human and natural disasters. Other areas of study include sea surface status, ice observation, and the monitoring of polar weather conditions. Data from the satellite could also aid in topographic and thematic mapping in some remote regions.
Two additional secondary payloads are also attached to Resurs DK1. Italy's Payload for Antimatter-Matter Exploration and Light-nuclei Astrophysics (PAMELA) instrument is housed on the upward side of the satellite. The experiment will investigate cosmic rays in Earth orbit in an attempt to learn more about dark matter and the relationship between matter and antimatter.
"At the moment, PAMELA is the most advanced instrument for this field in astrophysics," said researcher Piegiorgio Picozza. "When PAMELA will get into orbit, the second and most amazing part of its scientific adventure will begin, with the aim of discovering some of the most intriguing and complex mysteries of the Universe."
A Russian particle detector is also included aboard Resurs DK1, and it will work to identify earthquake precursors in Earth's magnetic field.
Plans call for a follow-on Resurs DK satellite to be launched in the next few years with similar objectives.