If there is one major thing that Russia probably did not anticipate when it invaded Ukraine in February was the possibility of the latter getting its hands on Starlink, the satellite internet constellation run by Elon Musk‘s SpaceX. Learning lessons from the past, the transnational country announced it is currently developing a Starlink rival called Skif, which it plans to deploy sometime in 2025.
The announcement was reported by the state-run media outlet Tass, which noted that Russia’s Skif satellite constellation was developed to provide cheap and high-speed internet access across the country. On October 22, scientists launched the Soyuz-2.1b carrier rocket with three Gonets-M satellites and a Skif-D module under the Sfera program from the Vostochny space center and completed the system’s testing and payload demo.
“The start of the Skif system’s deployment is scheduled to begin in 2025, with the launch of two Skif satellite prototypes,” Reshetnev Information Satellite Systems (ISS) company Yevgeny Nesterov said in an interview. “Flight trials, when complete, will be followed by experiments in establishing communication channels, with regard to the Doppler effect and variable delay,” the scientist added.
As for its other purpose, Nestorov shared that the Skif satellite would be involved in studying the “effects of space radiation, experienced by a satellite with the orbit of some 8,000 km above the ground.” Russia’s Starlink rival is expected to provide internet access to remote areas in the country, including the Arctic regions.
Moscow designed the Skif satellite constellation as an alternative to the O3b constellation, a Medium Earth orbit (MEO) satellite constellation operated by SES, A Luxemburg-French company. The O3b constellation was designed to deliver low-latency broadband connectivity to remote locations.
Musk’s Starlink donation to Ukraine was disapproved by China and upset Russia. In October, Russia’s foreign ministry, Konstantin Vorontsov called Ukraine’s use of Starlink “provocative” and “questionable” under the Outer Space Treaty in a UN meeting. “Quasi-civilian infrastructure may become a legitimate target for retaliation. Western actions needlessly put at risk the sustainability of peaceful space activities, as well as numerous social and economic processes on Earth that affect the well-being of people, first of all in developing countries,” the official added.
Meanwhile, China showcased the massive SLC-18P Anti-Starlink radar at the China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition Airshow in Zhuhai.
The new system was developed by the 14th Research Institute of China Electronics Technology Group Corporation and designed for space target surveillance and is capable of multi-target tracking measurement data.