Everything we know about Russia's sphere satellite internet and earth imaging program

Source: Sputniknews  25.05.2024


A global pioneer in space technology, Russia has ambitious plans in store for the near future. The Sphere program is a major component of these plans. Here's everything we know about it.


Russian Ministry of Digital Development head Maksut Shadayev confirmed to lawmakers last week that work on a Russian analogue of the Starlink satellite Internet system will be a priority for the government over the coming six years.


That analogue is known under the blanket name "Sfera" (lit. "Sphere"), and is intended not only to beam high-speed Internet down to Earth, but provide satellite digital TV, support for Internet of Things (IoT) projects, Earth imaging services, and surveillance capabilities.


Sphere was announced in 2018 on the basis of an earlier Roscosmos program known as "Ether." The plan is to place between 380 and 640 satellites into orbit by 2030, and more after that.


The Sphere project incorporates existing Russian space-based capabilities, such as GLONASS satellite navigation, and offers a dizzying array of new global and regional satellite constellations and sub-constellations, including:

Yamal (eight communications satellites to be placed in geostationary orbit)

Express RV (four devices to provide satellite Internet to the Arctic in high elliptical orbit)

Express (seven digital TV satellites in geostationary orbit)

Marathon-IoT (264 devices in low Earth orbit for IoT applications, including in remote areas. Five satellites planned for launch in 2025, 44 in 2026)

Skif (12 broadband Internet and telephony satellites, four apiece along three orbital planes)

Sphere also incorporates at least six remote sensing and surveillance satellite constellations, including:

Berkut-X (12 radar surface imaging devices orbiting at 700 km)

Berkut-O (40 surface surveying satellites orbiting at 600 km with an imaging resolution of 2-5 m per pixel)

Berkut-VD (28 high-detail imaging satellites with a resolution as low as 0.4 meters, orbiting at 500 km)

Berkut-S (16 medium-resolution spacecraft orbiting at 700 km)

Smotr (nine Earth imaging satellites planned by 2035, orbiting at 500 km, with a spatial resolution of 0.5 meters)

Gryphon (small, low-cost imaging CubeSats with a spatial resolution of 2.5 meters. They should number 136 total when the constellation is complete. Production expected to start in 2025)


All satellites attached to the Sphere program are non-hermetic, and have between 60-70 percent unified components, which should mean faster mass production and dramatically reduced costs.


The first new satellite under the Sphere program was launched in October 2022 on board a Soyuz-21b rocket carrying a Skif-D (D for "Demonstration") satellite into orbit. The Skif-D completed extensive flight and communications testing in November 2023, beaming down Internet at speeds up to 6.5 megabits/s. Production series Skifs are expected to appear in 2026, and to provide speeds up to 150 gigabits/s, offering stable Internet access to northern latitudes inaccessible using traditional comms sats in geostationary orbit, including regions that are part of Russia’s North Sea Route.


When complete, Sphere is expected to have major implications for Russia’s technological, scientific, industrial, economic, and security sovereignty in the face of Western sanctions, and to dramatically expand the country’s independent Internet, telephony, and IoT capabilities.