“The negotiations on placing GLONASS ground stations are underway with countries of Southeast Asia, the African and Asia-Pacific regions,” State Space Corporation Roscosmos Deputy CEO for International Cooperation Sergei Savelyev said Tuesday at the Paris Air Show.
GLONASS (GLObal NAvigation Satellite System) is Russia’s space-based satellite navigation and positioning system built in the late 1970s – 80s during the Cold War as an alternative to the US Global Positioning System (GPS).
The system suffered a brief decline in funding in the late 1990s, as did most of Russia’s military assets following the breakup of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. Beginning in 2001, Vladimir Putin’s presidency made the system a top government priority and funding has grown substantially since then.
Since 2011, Russia has aggressively enabled global coverage of GLONASS after it achieved 100% coverage of its territory in 2010. Specifically, it restored the full orbital constellation of 24 satellites in October 2011.
In 2016, India and Russia agreed on a cooperative arrangement, with India to host a ground station for Glonass. In exchange, Russia will host India’s ground-measurement gathering stations in Russia for India’s Regional Navigation Satellite System known as NavIC.
Earlier this year, Russia’s State Space Corporation, Roscosmos, agreed on a satellite navigation cooperation with the Argentine Commission for Aerospace Research (CONAE) with plans to deploy GLONASS ground stations in Argentina.
Moscow is currently negotiating with African countries to deploy GLONASS ground stations across the region. Moscow is yet to mention the host country in Africa and the determining factors for selecting one. However, a rule of thumb will consider geopolitical factors and technology readiness.
South Africa already hosts a ground station that monitors GLONASS and GPS satellites. The ground station, known as the Sazhen-TM-BIS station, was commissioned by Russia’s Precision Instrument Systems Corporation in 2017 within the premises of the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (HartRAO) located near Johannesburg. The Sazhen-TM-BIS station observes GLONASS and GPS satellites’ navigation signals, as well as measurements of navigation parameters of their travel and receipt of navigation messages from the satellites. The first node of the project was installed and commissioned in 2014 in Brazil.
Russia currently has space cooperation arrangements with a number of other African countries, including Angola and Egypt. In May, ROSCOSMOS released a document that reveals plans to deploy optical-electronic monitoring stations in South Africa by the 3rd quarter of 2019.
A number of other satellite navigation and positioning systems such as the American GPS, European Galileo and Chinese BeiDou are available on a global scale for commercial and military purposes. On a regional scale, Japan’s Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS) and India’s Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) are also worthy of note.
In 2018, China established the China-Arab BeiDou Satellite Navigation Centre in Tunisia, in what is regarded as the first overseas centre for the BeiDou system.
Joseph Ibeh is a Mandela Washington Fellow and Senior Analyst at Space in Africa. His experience spans industry research and market analysis with a focus on African-grown NewSpace companies, commercial space industry, national space programmes and real-life application of space science for sustainable development in Africa.