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Interview of Marat Nurguzhin Rakhmalievich to the web-magazine “Vlast”

От госструктур до граждан: кто сможет пользоваться и как будет работать система дистанционного зондирования земли в Казахстане

Marat Rakhmalievitsh, Earth remote sensing system is already running. How does it operate and what is the use of this system today? 

MN .: Earth remote sensing (ERS) space system of the Republic consists of two segments: the two optoelectronic spacecrafts (SC) - high spatial resolution “KazEOSat-1" (1 m) and medium spatial resolution (6.5 m ) “KazEOSat-2" and ground control complex of satellites and ground dedicated complex for receiving, processing and distribution of ERS data to end users. 

The first spacecraft has a productivity of 220 thousand square meters. km / day. This spacecraft has been manufactured by the French strategic partner Airbus Defense and Space Geo SA. 

The second spacecraft - medium resolution, it has been particularly designed for monitoring sufficiently large areas and focused on monitoring of agricultural industry, emergency situations, to environmental monitoring. The swath, which is very important - 77 km. Compare: if the high-resolution spacecraft  has a swath of 20 km, it is quite a narrow area, 77 kilometers - almost 4 times wider. The spacecraft  productivity is 1 million square  km / day. 

We are currently running the ground segment, which is the second component. And, in the building where we are now operators control spacecrafts, engineers processes the images and make them as the end products, delivering to the consumer. Here, on the construction site are antenna complexes - two radomes that directly communicate with our spacecrafts. Each spacecraft  flies an average of 6 times a day over our territory - 3 day and 3 night sessions. These antenna complexes transfer control signals to the satellite, so it has an idea of what sections and time should be for imaging, also they download the imaged data. And what we do here is, we process it, using the ground-based equipment and further supply the consumer. 

High-resolution spacecraft was launched on the Vega launch-vehicle of the European Space Agency from Kourou (French Guiana) launch base on April 30, 2014. Medium resolution spacecraft was launched on the Dnepr launch- vehicle from Yasniy (Russia) launch base on June 20, 2014. Both spacecrafts are flying fine presently. High resolution spacecraft has been put for conventional operation in early July, by the State Commission, and the medium resolution spacecraft is still under the trial operation. We are going to commission it at the end of October. Alongside with that, we have been operating commercially both of the spacecrafts together with our partners since July. 

What is their practical application? 

There are several types of the Earth remote sensing spacecrafts. Our spacecrafts are optical-electronic spacecrafts, i.e. they image the surface of the Earth and on the basis of these images we can identify and determine the developments on the Earth's surface.  Other type is radar remote sensing spacecrafts.  This second type is what we would like to have in the future for our system, and now our company is working on a concept of the radar spacecraft . What are they for? They are complementary to the optical spacecrafts, and besides, radar satellites can perform imaging when it is cloudy and at nights, while the optics can only operate in daylight and in clear weather. 

The third type of spacecraft s is ERS, which is associated with weather forecasts, a kind of meteorological satellites. Kazakhstan has only recently started building up a system of ERS, and we have taken the first spot in the field of optoelectronic spacecraft s. These spacecrafts are used almost for all sectors of the economy. 

We provide number of services to the Ministry of Agriculture, ranging from moisture reserves, sowing season, their overseeing; how much it is sown, the timing of harvest, the process of vegetation, herbal index, based on a number of factors it is possible to predict the yield. Presently, we are monitoring the harvest of our main grain regions - North Kazakhstan, Kostanai, Akmola regions and Kyzylorda region - rice-growing farms. 

So, you are the right place to request for the expected harvest. 

It may also be possible that space systems make errors as this cannot be a perfect solution. Fieldwork continue to be relevant, but on a smaller scope. But our high resolution satellite minimizes the error as compared with the forecasting of the previous years. Hopefully our error will be 7-10% this year. It is within the data variation. 

At least it is a tool for monitoring and overseeing by the local administrations and other grain-producing farms. 

Also, we perform monitoring of the forest green planting for the Ministry of Agriculture, where there is a legal or illegal cutting. Determining the percentage of the area of ​​our forests, composition of the forests, state of the forests (sick or not), monitoring grass lands, desertification are also challenging issues for Kazakhstan. For example, we are presently performing a small contract for monitoring saxaul plantations in the bottom of the Aral Sea under projects of the United Nation. This allows us to finalize the results in vegetative reclamation within World Bank projects implemented since 2004. 

Apparently, ERS can also be used for estimating water resources, which are relevant as well as being the issues related to the volume of water in lakes, rivers. As you can see, most of the agriculture issues can be covered using our spacecraft s. Space images will let to make inventory and monitoring of water bodies to update water cadastre of the Republic of Kazakhstan 

In addition, we have introduced a system of high accuracy satellite navigation. The combination of navigation missions with high accuracy remote sensing allows Kazakhstan to introduce precision farming technology.  That was the objective set by the Government to the Ministry of Agriculture and we try together with them to solve the issue, suggest techniques and approaches. We have developed the concept of introduction of precision farming and now these proposals are discussed in the Ministry of Agriculture as part of the research. 

In regards the need for the images to the Committee for Emergency Situations, it is obvious that all extraordinary events on the surface of the earth, from the flood to the mudslide, from fire to snow drifts of roads and rail lines refer to the emergency. When we had the flooding in our three regions - Karagandy, Akmola, North Kazakhstan - we provided pictures, data to the Situation Centre of Committee for Emergency Situations immediately. Issues of mudslide, the state of glaciers, moraine lakes are also resolved using remote sensing. Our counterparts at the National Center for Space Research and Technology have been dealing with these issues for the past two decades and mastered their skills. Today we have our spacecraft s, more accurate, and we are now planning to adjust these techniques to deal with such challenges. 

And what was that all about with flood? There was monitoring, you provided the data, but the notification delayed, people were evacuated at the last minute. CES reacted loose? 

No, I would not say so. CES reaction was quick as far as the flood event is concerned. Besides, there was no any death. 

While people were running out of one side of the village the other side was under water already. 

I cannot comment on the situation. We provided the images available. Another thing is that they were generated by digital elevation models and forecasts of floods are just getting developed. All these objectives are appropriate and up to date. I cannot provide comments regarding what happened at the time because I was not there, however, our specialists transmitted the imageries from the space during the first hours, i.e., it took maximum 1-2 hours to dispatch information on disks and as well as via FTP-channel, to the Committee of Emergency Situations Ministry of Internal Affairs of Kazakhstan, which showed the flooded areas after the antenna stations received the captured imagery. FYI, some of the images have been posted at our website and at the website tengrinews.kz 

Well, let's go back to the RS capabilities. What else can these satellites do? 

Our company performs fire monitoring for CES. In the past and this summer the information on the situation with steppe and forest fires and so on has been provided. It can also reveal the foci area, the direction of spreading and specific operational actions are taken. 

Environmental monitoring is important as well. For example, the accumulation of solid waste, this becomes a serious problem for the world. The vast territories of cities are badly surrounded by the garbage, and this waste should be processed. We monitor the situation also. Presently, we are working on a small project of Akimat of Astana – the assignment given is to find the ways of monitoring the household wastes and their build up process, the ways of adjusting and making the appropriate management decisions for the waste disposal for not letting more areas to be allocated for these wastes. 

It is also possible to watch from the space the illegal gas flaring, identify relevant violations. We work closely with the Prosecutor General's Office on the development of land - we can survey the area from the space and identify whether certain areas permitted for construction in the area, or there is squatting is going on. 

You can also picture nearby foreign territories and determine the forecast of yield, and monitor emergency situations processes in neighboring areas as well as conduct precautions to prevent for example, spreading of fires in the territory of Kazakhstan, and other emergency situations. 

One of the most important applications of satellite images - is the security of our independent state. 

You know, I can understand if you monitor farmland, but how the photos from the satellites, you said about a project with the akimat of Astana, will help to dispose of solid waste. The question is that we have nowhere to dispose of, we have just a landfill. And you can just state the fact of a dump occurrence in a certain place, and at some other place it becomes larger. 

Certainly - we identify these sections, determining the area which is involved under the waste, but the decision should be taken by a person who has the information. Already knowing about the volumes, the person can see if it is a critical state, or more can be involved there. They must take appropriate consideration. In fact, the images are the primary information for the managers who make decisions. But thanks to secondary processing (thematic processing of ERS) we can turn images into mapping products, etc. 

Mapping work is more understandable and logical

Indeed, space images let you create more accurate maps covering large areas and the map scale of 1: 5000 and smaller can be done on the basis of imaging from the space.  We have already made that for Akimats of Astana, Almaty, South Kazakhstan regions, and this year for the Atyrau region. 

Actually, with the launch of the radar system and in conjunction with the opto-electronic spacecraft s, we will be able to perform evaluation of mineral resources. Any rock that lies deep underground is reflected on the surface by some features. By the way, these characters can predict earthquakes. Now we are closely working with the US Geological Survey, they provide an expert, series of consultations are conducted, and we would like to produce a pilot project for the Committee of Geology under the operating time of application of remote sensing data for the geological objectives. 

And this will only be possible when radar satellites are launched?
Yes, although we can do it now as well. Our company is a distributor in Kazakhstan almost of all space groups in other countries, so we can purchase the missing information from our partners if required for resolving issues of our industry. In addition, for open mining operations, we resolve the issues up to determining the development of outlines for mining strips, status of pit edges, determining the amount of the identified mass. You can monitor the construction of facilities, for example, we initiated monitoring construction of the Expo project. And operational information shows the status of construction processes by date, i.e., it demonstrates the real progress over a certain period of time, the situation of the past year, that was happing two months ago and present developments in construction, etc. 

Could you tell us about the Expo progress? 

The pictures for the last year i.e., since May 2014, when we had just launched the spacecraft , shows it is moving ok. There was almost a waste, black ground. Now we can see how fast the construction is moving, the process is developing in the right dynamics. Another thing is, it is up to the managers and top managers what decisions they make once the information is provided. 

Huge portion of ERS work is done in the interests of national security for the Ministry of Defence, for external intelligence. Because our satellites make images not only of Kazakhstan but also the whole world. 80% of the scope refers to surveying the territory of the rest of the world, 20% - of the territory of Kazakhstan. In this regards we can provide information physically about any region of the world to the force structure for domestic needs as per their specific requirements. And the worldwide ERS satellites, as per marketing analysis, perform 60-65% work for national security, 20-25% work for the state bodies, local executive bodies, 10-12% work for commercial structures. That is the pattern of requirements. 

And what are the prospects of our emote ERS? 

We are now developing new projects for the future, and we are ready to cooperate at any level. With that specific individuals will become consumers. There are three aspects - B2B (Business to Business"), B2C (Business to Customer) and B2G (Business to Government). ERS project has already saturated the two aspects - for the state and enterprises (business), we want to learn a huge market and provide them with information to the iPad, cell phones, etc. This market is not yet developed, a kind of "deep ocean", where ERS can well commercialize. 

Can we expect profitability of the system? 

In fact, all the systems of ERS supported by the state. Because they are not as commercially oriented as satellite communication technology. Communication technologies payback is 2-3 years, and remote sensing data is a high-tech product. The imagery needs to be processed, conducted a geometric and radiometric correction, geo-referenced, i.e. conduct primary and standard process, then carry out thematic processing. It takes much effort and intellectual work of our engineers who process these pictures, make the deliverables. There is relevant software, which allows computerizing part of the work, but most of it is done manually. Our spacecraft s have the advantage of imaging: In addition to the histogram surveying (60 km length and 20 km width for KazEOSat-1 and 90 km length and 77 km width for «KazEOSat-2), band-pass survey (2000 km length and 20 km swath for KazEOSat-1 and 4000 km length and 77 km width for KazEOSat-2), there is also a stereo imaging mode. It means that we can immediately get a digital elevation model and digital terrain model, which allow monitoring, for example, flooding of certain areas where the river water will flow towards the village, or vice versa, the water flow will take a different course (i.e. first, water will fill all lowlands and only then begin flooding elevated areas). This may be a situation with dams, it will be possible to predict the flooding of a dam and make decisions upfront. 

Talgat Musabayev told several times that the ERS project could be recouped, profitable, and there were even some sort of achievements. What kind of achievements? Where and when it can start to pay back? All the more you say that it is subsidized everywhere in the world. 

First, ERS spacecraft s - quite complex, science-based spacecraft s. Accordingly, they are not cheap. Secondly, as I said, for data processing, it requires a fairly high intellectual potential, and appropriate software. All of this is available in Kazakhstan. We have trained 45 engineers under our project, of which 24 design engineers, and more engineers (21 specialists) getting trained at the moment, since 2014 onwards, they have been managing two spacecrafts, they conduct daily planning of imaging the entire world, receive and process images, it means the engineering staff is working. Now let’s talk about commercialization. At the first stage, to kind of “educate” the market of Kazakhstan, we need to prepare the market. Our customers are not yet ready, because this is a fairly complex product. It's not just taking a photo and putting it in an album. The image requires further efforts. Each state body may use satellite images to resolve their immediate issues. The mission entrusted to us for now is processing images and presentation of end products to consumers, but in the near future, as in the whole world practice, each sector of the economy and related companies will have their own specialists who will be able to perform thematic processing of images and receive real revenues from the use of remote sensing data. In this regard, we make a comprehensive program, and together with government agencies prepare consumers for the ability to efficient using ERS data, which will lead to increased commercialization in Kazakhstan. 

As far as the international practice is concerned - the world is ready. We now have a number of distributors that will sell our pictures abroad. We have a number of distributors within the CIS; they are representatives of companies in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Now we consider a number of joint projects. We have already sold the first images: Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. 

But then, Russia has its own ERS.
The appropriate analysis have showed that at this stage, Kazakhstan, with the high-resolution spacecraft  KazEOSat-1, is almost among the top ten countries that have such high technology. 

Each spacecraft has its own frequency of imaging, so the only group of satellites can capture a large area at once. Therefore, the Russians complete Kazakhstan images in those areas, which missed certain orbit at the time of taking images, as Each satellite makes up 14-15 passes per day. 

Also, Kazakhstan, if necessary, will purchase images from other spacecraft s, as it is a worldwide practice.
Since this is just the second half of the year of our commercial operation of spacecraft s, of course, we have been developing our marketing strategy. I know and I am confident that there will be requirement for images abroad, and Kazakhstan will take its place in the export of ERS images. There will certainly be returns, but it will not be physically possible to make 100% yet. 

In general, can we say, if not profit, at least about recoupment of such projects? 

The issue of recoupment at this stage is unrealistic. But these first two years of commercial operation will show what mechanisms we will have for achieving payback. We are working on it. 

If you look at international practice, all these systems are subsidized. Since, first of all consumers, if we summarize, 80-85% of consumers - is the state itself. It turns out that the state should allocate funds for the purchase of images, as well as funds to build the system. Therefore, we suggest passing the images to state bodies for free, thus reducing the problem to a reasonable solution. This proposal is backed up, and is now regarded in the Parliament within the budget of 2016-2017. 

Our system contains two ERS satellites. Comparatively, the Russian one has five of them. Virtually, it looks like we initially lose? 

No, we're not losing. The Russian ERS group is strong enough grouping of meteorological satellites that are in geostationary orbits, and cover a huge territory. Russia has strong intention to expand the system, and by 2025 they intend to expand the existing grouping of ERS with radar spacecraft s, according to preliminary data, up to 15 - 20 spacecrafts. But the specific is that, that the territory of Russia is 10 times greater than the Kazakhstan’s. For Kazakhstan, for resolving economic issues, only two of our spacecrafts are sufficient. We are now working on a third spacecraf . This scientific and technological spacecraf , which, according to our plans will be launched in 2016-2017. The spatial resolution will be 22 meters. It will have to cover a large area, with the swath of 300 km. This is the third spacecraft of ERS. And we are working on the fourth spacecraft - radar. For now we consider its technical shape and investment proposals in partnership with our counterparts from France, Canada and England. That will be enough to fulfill our objectives and the state will not spend extra costs. 

Presently, the Parliament has a package of revisions to the legislation in regards space activities. There are lots of standards which relate specifically with the ERS and its application to the Ministries of Internal Affairs, Defense, and Agriculture. Do we need these revisions unless the state agencies reject the system? 

First of all, we have made updates to the law on space activities, the law worked for a certain time, because there were certain items found that required revisions. By the time the law was adopted, those systems were under development. And when we have built the system, accepted it, have gained some experience, we realize that it is necessary to set out clear legislative functions for the National Operator of the Earth remote sensing, National Operator Space Communications, the National Operator of high accuracy satellite navigation system. These projects are already working and there is already an infrastructure and indication the functions allow us to provide competently appropriate services. 

Under the ERS, addressing issues of state monitoring of ERS technology is a very efficient tool. The prevailing legislation does not provide state monitoring for satellite images and ERS, also it just stipulates about plane aerial photography, and other monitoring methods. Presently, when the space system is already arranged - we propose to include the ERS space technology for the objectives of state monitoring in various industries. This will let state authorities stay out of purchasing services of space systems of other countries but Kazakhstan’s local operator’s services. That is, it will allow loading our system, which is made in our country in the interests of the state. And when the technology will be spelled out in the legislation, state authorities will have a better look at the efficiency of its application. 

It is important that this technology has been spelled out as one of the tools for monitoring the state in dealing with any state objectives. It is a tool for management to properly make a decision. 

Today, geographic information systems are getting improved, which are based on spatial information, and it is mainly generated in the space as well. Many countries have established national spatial data infrastructure. This is the data that is tied to specific coordinates. For example, we have a database, it describes the height and weight of a person, and if it is tied to a particular place of residence, the location, then, it will become geospatial information. Kazakhstan has also started it is project of forming national spatial data infrastructure. There is already a basis for that - land registry. If it is transferred, using the ERS technology, to the category of spatial data, it will be possible to see it like you see at "Google", the information, the whole Kazakhstan might be seen in such aspect- with all the roads, communications and so on, putting the respective layers. Our partners from Zerde holding perform works on the project of national geographic information system – NGIS. This system will actually be based on the ERS data, which is already information technology, correct and up-to-date information. 

Or is the "big brother is watching you"? 

If we talk about civilian ERS technologies, they allow in fact distinguishing objects like car, and so on. It is possible to do that with our system. But monitoring people from outer space is hesitant (because one pixel in the image is equal to 1 m). It might be possible only in the movies. 

But this can be resolved by navigation. For example, this year we have provided such services to the Ministry of Agriculture, to one of the enterprises that fight against locusts. More than 1,200 men have worked in the fields, and made fumigation, spraying appropriate compounds and so on against locusts. Our monitoring system has monitored these workers – performed surveillance of their activities. They have been appropriate wristlets, and we, through our server, have provided information at the beginning of the day, in the middle, at the end of the day - continuous monitoring. And as you are aware, the issue of locusts in Kazakhstan has been resolved successfully. Space technology has helped the State here as well. 

At present the prison system is introducing an appropriate monitoring system. This way our prisons get relieved. I know that the Ministry of our Internal Affairs of Kazakhstan is also working on this project, and we are ready to offer solutions. 

However, the space monitoring data has been criticized earlier. For example, a year ago - in respect of the yield estimates. Many people told that the monitoring data was too far from reality. 

Yes, there was such a problem. But just to be accurate - this work was not done by our company, and our data was not used, since our spacecraft was in trial operation and under orbital testing. Therefore we did not provide data last year. They were provided by different spacecraft s - spacecraft s of low resolution with a spatial resolution of 1 km and 250 meters. This year, the Minister of Agriculture has held three meetings regarding space monitoring, and I have met with him myself, there have been clearly set targets for this year and now we are working hard in the framework of these targets. We have demonstrated the ways of improving forecast accuracy by using higher resolution spacecraft s. We are not talking only about the yield forecast. Last year there were some justified reasons. There are some heavy clouds over northern regions, which also is problem for the timely delivery of information at this moment as well. We have already provided information for regions, areas, and now our next purpose is business entities. But the boundaries of these entities have not been even properly reflected in the land registry. But we are working on this objective. 

You have reiterated earlier the civil direction of ERS. So, what is it in general – satellite is for people? Selfie from out of space? 

Business oriented consumers - large firms: mining, environmental, transport, road, rail, and construction companies. 

Monitoring of the spatial structures is also very important issue for the state and business. We have made a pilot project for Astana Akimat – we monitor Alash bridge, its progress and thus we can increase the safety of operation. Once certain loads lead to excessive strain – it will be possible take appropriate decisions. 

But there is a segment for small and medium businesses. People several times referred to us with land plot issues, when precise identification was required. Such cases, especially with regard to the accuracy of the area boundaries, the superposition of these boundaries can be determined from space. 

Someone might actually want a picture of the house from outer space! But these technologies are developing. It is impossible to be confident what will be your or my requirement next day. Even cell phone maps - all based on ERS. So I think that the requirements will increase. 

It means that if I track my dog using a chip via GPS, I am using ERS? 

Sure, you use the map, and it is obtained through ERS. What is the purpose of introducing the high accuracy satellite navigation? GPS satellites allow us to see on the cell phone our approximate location. But the accuracy is 3, 10, 15 meters. In addition, it can be adjusted - the owners of these groups can make a distortion at the required time. But high-accuracy navigation - a network of differential stations, they are 60 of them in Kazakhstan now. They allow up to 94% of the country, to increase the accuracy of up to one meter, and at the station within a radius of 30-50 km, the accuracy increases to centimeters. That's the objective of precise geodesy, to determine the areas between neighbors where there should be fencing - it's the objective of geodesy. And when we consider monitoring of a moving transport, when you need to quickly resolve these issues - for example, moving rail transport, which has been found as damaged, need to make swift capture within centimeters, the exact location of the blemish in the railroad bead – this can be possible with high-accuracy navigation. 

Is there endpoint of building of this system? 

There is no probably any complete system. We can talk about the positive solutions that are used in the United States, Canada, several European countries, followed by Russia, India, China and Kazakhstan. But the technology is constantly improving. With the commissioning of our design office, we will be in the forefront of all the changes. 

I think that in 5-6 years there will be a significant breakthrough in ERS, because this market is growing enormously. 

And what is the schedule for commissioning the design office? 

At the moment we are launching pilot production here. We have introduced a 3D printer that works with metal powders rather than plastic, so we are working on the technology for manufacturing parts. By the year end, we will introduce finishing facilities for fabrication of cables, satellite coating, and by the end of next year we will introduce SKTB (Special Design and Technological Bureau) with pilot production. Even engineers will work here and produce the orders of our partners. Our partner - Airbus Defense and Space Geo SA - have committed to making technology transfer, and in the first five years, the partners will invest s 60 million Euros for placing orders here. This will be approximately in 2017-2018 according to our plans. 

That is, it will not be "screwdriver" production, as previously assumed? 

Well, that was the original plan and we had signed a contract only on building of assembly and testing complex. There will be distinctive tests there. Only thermo-vacuum chamber that simulates space and has a diameter of 8 m, depth of 10 meters. It is a low vacuum and temperature is -180 / +150 – similar to space. 

But then, when we realized that the assembly and testing - it is only 8-10% of the cost of the spacecraft , have trained designers and decided to bring the local content in manufacturing spacecraft s up to 50-55%. For our partners it will be even profitable to localize production in Kazakhstan. We work purposefully in this direction.

The Project «Creation of the Earth Remote Sensing Space System of the Republic of Kazakhstan»
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The Project «Creation of the Ground based Infrastructure of High-accuracy Satellite Navigation System»
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The Project «Creation of the Assembly and Testing Complex of the Engineering and Design Office of Space Technology» (ATC)
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TK 66
The Technical Committee of Standardization
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Space days in Kazakhstan
International seminar “Space days in Kazakhstan”, which is organized by JSC “NC “Kazakhstan Gharysh Sapary” is devoted to the creation and operation of the Earth remote sensing space system of the Republic of Kazakhstan (ERS SS RK). The objective of the seminar: exchange of experience with the world leaders in ERS systems, informing of large public about possibility to apply products and services of ERS SS and HSNS of the Republic of Kazakhstan to solve industry problems of the economy of Kazakhstan.
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