Investment Portal of the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation

Ice Navigator in Three Years: New Space and Specific Solutions for the Northern Sea Route

"After 3,000 kilometers, turn right."

27 march 2024

The creation of an ice navigator is one of the key and ambitious tasks that Russia faces on its way to transforming the Northern Sea Route from a path of adventure into an international transport corridor. According to modern shipping regulations, a ship's geolocation must always be visible to ports and emergency services. The ship is instructed to strictly follow the designated corridor and maintain close communication with control centers on shore and satellites in space. The "wheelhouse" of a 21st-century ship looks more like a futuristic spaceship with numerous screens and tablets than the captain's bridge from the adventure classics of the last century. This system currently operates in the Arctic, but not always and not everywhere. The vast distances between ports, challenging ice conditions, and unpredictable and sometimes even dangerous weather in the Polar region constantly affect the ship traffic schedule, which inevitably impacts the volume of cargo transported. To solve the task of safe and predictable navigation via the Northern Sea Route, Russia decided to create a large-scale ship traffic control system, dubbed the "ice navigator".

The spring of 2024 kicked off with the announcement that the private aerospace corporation, New Space, plans to lay the groundwork for an ice navigator. Anton Alekseev, the company's leader, shared with TASS at the Sirius World Youth Festival that they are hopeful for a fully realized solution by 2026. New Space operates at the crossroads of digital transformation and product marketing within the space industry. This translates into three practical areas of focus: the design of small spacecraft, the development of digital services, and the promotion of space knowledge. The inception of the all-weather monitoring system project coincided with the establishment of the corporation itself in 2021. 

According to a presentation of the radar satellite named Occulus from the same year, New Space commits to constructing a spacecraft made of 80% domestic components within three years. The satellite is designed to scan a strip 400 km wide with a maximum resolution of up to 2 meters.

The project boasts several advantages such as the ability to conduct surveys regardless of weather conditions or time of day, the capability to create detailed digital models of terrain, and the observation of small objects within a wide field of view, among others. Meanwhile, the leadership of New Space highlights the expansion of the global commercial SAR market, with a mere three vendors catering to 90% of it. Previously, the reliance of Russian shipping on foreign technology was worrisome, but now overcoming this dependence has become crucial for survival. In 2024, New Cosmos signed an agreement with Rosatom's subsidiary, Rusatom Greenway, hinting that Occulus may soon be observing icebreakers from above.

The private initiative in satellite development for NSR service is a natural component of the strategy aimed at creating a sustainable group of spacecraft for route service. Currently, Roscosmos is the primary player, consistently launching Arktik-M satellites into orbit. At present, two spacecraft are operating over the Russian Arctic, with plans to increase this number to four in the near future. The launch of two Kondor-FK and one Obzor-RV spacecraft is also on the agenda. These will also be tasked with conducting all-weather surveillance of the Northern Sea Route. Rosatom, for its part, has reported on the development of software for the ice navigator's operation. As stated by Atomflot CEO Leonid Irlitz, artificial intelligence will play a role in analyzing data and generating current images of ship routes, port traffic, and ice drift patterns. This will form a comprehensive ecosystem, which is currently in its initial stage of creation. Active development is set to commence in 2025, with the first results expected by 2026.


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