Znamya the Space Mirror

Znamya, which means “banner” or “flag” in Russian, was a series of Russian experiments developed in the 1990s to study the possibility of sending back radiation from the Sun to illuminate, for example, cities in the Russian Arctic plunged into darkness for much of the year. The space mirror that reflects the Sun’s rays onto the night side of our planet is one of the impressive space projects. To carry out this study, reflectors of increasing size had to be placed in orbit. A first twenty meters in diameter reflector, Znamya 2, was briefly deployed successfully in 1993. But a second attempt in 1999, with a twenty-five meters in diameter reflector, failed and the project was stopped.

The Znamya project started in 1988 when the United States of America proposed to commemorate the 500th anniversary of America’s discovery by organising a solar sailboat race between the Earth and the Moon. The project was unfortunately abandoned by the United States of America, lacking sufficient subsidies. But the Russian project continued its way thanks to the creation of the Space Regatta Consortium (SRC). SRC was formed in 1990 by RSC Energia as a leader and by some other Russian space organizations, and headed by Yu. Semenov, N. Sevastyanov and V. Syromiatnikov. The goal of this project was to pave the way for future solar sail projects but also to test the materials that would be the basis of solar sailboat technology, such as extremely thin metallic films used to build the sail, and to test large deployable structures of thin films formed by centrifugal forces. All this work would have been used for solar sailboats as well as for manufacturing satellites or antennas having this shape.

Krafft Arnold Ehricke

Krafft Arnold Ehricke (March 24, 1917 – December 11, 1984) was a German rocket-propulsion engineer and advocate for space colonization. Born in Berlin, Ehricke believed in the feasibility of space travel from a very young age, influenced by his viewing of the Austrian-German-American filmmaker, screenwriter, and occasional film producer and actor Fritz Lang and the movie Woman in the Moon, often considered to be one of the first science fiction movie. He attended Technical University of Berlin (founded in 1879, it became one of the most prestigious education institutions in Europe) and studied celestial mechanics and nuclear physics. He worked at Peenemünde (during World War II, the area was highly involved in the development and production of the V-2 rocket, until the production’s relocation to Nordhausen) as a propulsion engineer from 1942 to 1945 with Walter Thiel (March 3, 1910 – August 17, 1943), then went to the United States of America with other German rocket scientists and technicians under Operation Paperclip in 1947.

Ehricke promoted a philosophical concept called the “Extraterrestrial Imperative”. This idea refers to Ehricke’s belief that it was the responsibility of humanity to explore outer space and exploit the resources of the Solar System, in order to sustain the development of living beings. “There are no external limits to growth”, Ehricke insisted, because “while the Earth is a closed system, the exploration of outer space opens the universe to humanity”. Krafft Arnold Ehricke is one of the fathers of the concept of Space Reflector (which reflect sunlight on to small spots on the night side of the Earth to provide night time illumination); he wrote about systems called “Lunetta”, “Soletta”, “Biosoletta”, and “Powersoletta”.

Vladimir Syromyatnikov

Vladimir Syromyatnikov (January 7, 1933 – September 19, 2006) is the father of the Znamya project. This Russian space scientist is best known for designing docking mechanisms for manned spacecraft (a vehicle or machine designed to fly in outer space); it was his Androgynous Peripheral Attach System (allowing the joining of two space vehicles; this connection can be temporary, or semi-permanent such as for space station modules) which, in the 1970s, linked the Soviet and American space capsules in the Apollo-Soyuz test flight (the first joint U.S. – Soviet space flight, a symbol of the policy of détente that the two superpowers were pursuing at the time). Vladimir Syromyatnikov also helped design and develop Vostok, the world’s first manned spacecraft, which launched Yuri Gagarin into outer space in 1961. In the 1990s, he updated the design of his docking mechanism for the meeting of the Mir space station and the Atlantis space shuttle. Syromyatnikov’s designs are still used by spacecraft visiting the International Space Station.

Solar sail

Solar sails (also called light sails or photon sails) are a proposed method of spacecraft propulsion using radiation pressure (the pressure exerted upon any surface due to the exchange of momentum between the object and the electromagnetic field) exerted by sunlight on large mirrors.

Znamya 1

Znamya 1 was a ground engineering test model, it never flew in outer space. “In much the way a schoolchild playing with a hand mirror learns to reflect a spot of light from a bright window into the crannies of his room, some scientists believe they can put large, orbiting mirrors above Earth that could illuminate darkened areas below with spots of reflected sunlight that measure tens of miles across”.

Znamya 2

Russian scientists have long hoped to harness the Sun’s light as a relatively cheap way of illuminating Arctic cities in the permanent night of winter. “This should be a marvellous technical demonstration” said James E. Oberg of Houston, an expert on Russian space programs. “It’s an idea they’ve talked about for a long time, and now they will have a chance to see if it works”. Znamya 2 was a 20-metre wide space solar mirror. Originally designed as a prototype of a solar sail propulsion system, Znamya 2 was launched aboard Progress M-15 (a Russian unmanned cargo spacecraft which was launched in 1992 to resupply the Mir space station) from Site 31/6 (a launch site used by derivatives of the R-7 Semyorka missile) at the Baikonur Cosmodrome (a spaceport located in an area of southern Kazakhstan leased to Russia) on October 27, 1992. The reflector was deployed from the end of the Russian Progress spacecraft (a Russian expendable cargo spacecraft) on February 4, 1993, next to the Russian Mir space station (the first modular space station that operated in low Earth orbit from 1986 to 2001).

The mirror deployed successfully, and, when illuminated, produced a five kilometres wide bright spot, which traversed Europe from southern France to western Russia at a speed of eight kilometres per second. The bright spot had a luminosity equivalent to approximately that of a full Moon. Although clouds covered much of Europe that morning, a few ground observers (astronomers on the top of the Alps) reported seeing a flash of light as the beam swept by. The mirror was de-orbited after several hours and burned up in atmospheric re-entry (the movement of an object from outer space into and through the gases of an atmosphere of a planet) over Canada. The main goals of Znamya 2 were to verify the concept of the system, test stability and other characteristics of the structure, control the large thin film structure in the outer space environment, and conduct New Light (Новый Свет) experiment to illuminate the night side of Earth.

Znamya 2.5

Znamya 2.5 was the successor of Znamya 2. The project stood head and shoulders above its predecessor. Znamya 2.5 was to become the world’s first controlled global demonstration of space to Earth beamed solar power. It was deployed on February 5, 1999. The slightly concave membrane had a diameter of twenty-five meters and was expected to produce a bright seven-kilometres in diameter spot, with a luminosity equivalent to that of ten full Moon, which could be controlled by fixing it on one spot for a long time. The membrane was expected to unfold and be held unfolded by centrifugal forces. This demonstration could have significantly accelerated the global acceptance and reality of Solar Power Satellites.

According to the Russian scientist who has been called “the architect of the Znamya project”, Vladimir Syromyatnikov, the space mirror failed because of incompetence. At first all went well, the undocking of the Progress supply craft from the Mir space station went perfectly. It moved to about one hundred meters away from Mir and stopped. Looking out the windows of Mir, the cosmonauts could see the Progress hanging in outer space some way off. The folded-up space mirror was in eight drums attached to the circumference of the Progress. To unfurl the mirror, the craft had to be spun on its axis. So the thrusters were commanded to fire. But just as the Progress spacecraft was being spun to begin the deployment of the foil mirror, an extra, unwanted, command was sent to the craft telling it to deploy an antenna usually used for communication during docking manoeuvres. The antenna extended and immediately became entangled in the foil. For a while controllers at mission control just outside Moscow were blissfully unaware as the partially deployed space mirror started to crumple. Then they looked with horror at the television pictures being beamed back from Mir.

Znamya 3

Znamya 3 was intended to be a scaled-up version of the previous two Znamya, with a diameter of sixty to seventy meters. It was never built, as the project was abandoned after the failure of Znamya 2.5.

Environmental issues

During the Znamya project, many complaints have been addressed from amateur astronomy and environmental communities. Russian space officials have been receiving complaints from astronomers and environmentalists that Znamya will pollute the night sky with unwanted light. The leaders of the project have answered that artificial illumination will only be conducted over infrastructure-poor cities and industrial zones in regions of the world that experience long polar nights and that space power releases very little waste heat and no carbon dioxide.

Space Object

The term Object in reference to outer space was first used in 1961 in General Assembly Resolution 1721 (XVI) titled International cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space to describe any object launched by States into outer space. Professor Bin Cheng, a world authority on International Air and Space Law, has noted that members of the COPUOS during negotiations over the space treaties treated spacecraft and space vehicles as synonymous terms. The Space Object can be considered as the conventional launcher, the reusable launcher, the satellite, the orbital station, the probe, the impactor, the space telescope… The five UN treaties talk about Space Objects.

Article X of the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (1967) states that “In order to promote international cooperation in the exploration and use of outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, in conformity with the purposes of this Treaty, the States Parties to the Treaty shall consider on a basis of equality any requests by other States Parties to the Treaty to be afforded an opportunity to observe the flight of space objects launched by those States”. Also, under the Outer Space Treaty, Space Object implicates liability, registration, and a prohibition on the placement of weapons of mass destruction into outer space. The Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space (1968), especially its Article 5, talks about Objects Launched into Outer Space. Under the Rescue and Return Agreement, we should also note that the term defines whether a State can request or send back a Space Object found in its territory, as well as the extent to which a State may be compensated for the effort.

The Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects (1972) talks about Space Objects and so is the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space (1972) which specifies in its Article I (b) that “The term space object includes component parts of a space object as well as its launch vehicle and parts thereof”. Under the Liability Convention, we notice that Space Object defines the extent to which a State can apply a theory of liability in seeking compensation or restitution for damage caused to other objects in outer space, on the surface of the Earth, or aircraft in flight. Under the Registration Convention, a State party must register its Space Objects in order to assign nationality to a Space Object. Finally, Article 3 2. of the Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (1984) states that “Any threat or use of force or any other hostile act or threat of hostile act on the Moon is prohibited. It is likewise prohibited to use the Moon in order to commit any such act or to engage in any such threat in relation to the Earth, the Moon, spacecraft, the personnel of spacecraft or man-made space objects”.

The Paris Convention of 1919 (formally, the Convention Relating to the Regulation of Aerial Navigation) was the first international convention to address the political difficulties and intricacies involved in international aerial navigation. It deals with the notion of aircraft and states in its Article 30 that “All State aircraft other than military, customs and police aircraft shall be treated as private aircraft and as such shall be subject to all the provisions of the present Convention”. The Convention on International Civil Aviation, also known as the Chicago Convention, established the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a specialized agency of the UN charged with coordinating and regulating international air travel. It talks about aircrafts and corroborates the definition of an aircraft enacted in the Paris Convention (and adds the notion of Pilotless aircraft in its Article 8 and thus, opens the horizons of flying objects). An Aircraft can be defined as “any machine that can derive support in the atmosphere from the reactions of the air other than the reactions of the air against the Earth’s surface”. Hence the fact that a Space Object causing damage triggers international liability under the 1972 Liability Convention, that a Space Object requires registration by the 1975 Registration Convention, and that a Space Object effectively triggers application of much of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty & the 1968 Rescue Agreement, none of the Five Space Law Conventions define precisely what a Space Object is (and Space Object represent specific meanings under different treaties).

According to the COPUOS (Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, Legal Subcommittee, Fifty-seventh session, Vienna, April 2018, on The definition and delimitation of outer space, Suborbital flights and the delimitation of air space vis-à-vis outer space: functionalism, spatialism and state sovereignty, A Submission by the Space Safety Law & Regulation Committee of the International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety), a spacecraft should be capable of moving in outer space (either orbital or suborbital) without any support from the air, and should have a power source not dependent upon external oxygen. Professor Bin Cheng describes a Space Object as a man-made object that is launched or is intended to be launched into outer space. Several States have redefined Space Object in their national law using terms of art and/or through licensing and registration regimes under national law (Austria, Belgium, China, Spain, etc.).

What is called “the functionalist approach” – concerning the definition of a Space Object – takes as reference point the functions or activities of the vehicles. In order to answer the question “Is it a space craft or an aircraft?” one would ask: “Do the vehicle’s functions resemble to those of an aircraft or of a spacecraft?” Functionalists believe that a suborbital vehicle should be classified as an aircraft when the purpose that it fulfils is inherent to aviation activities, while it is deemed to be a spacecraft when it serves space-related purposes. The functionalist theory shares common grounds with what is called “the spatialist approach” (based on the environment where the activity is taking place); it examines whether the collision risks of the vehicles are higher among aircraft or space craft according to the location within which the vehicle operates. Another theory, which is closely linked to the spatialist approach, is “the aerodynamic-lift theory”. It proposes the demarcation between air space and outer space at eighty-three kilometres above the surface of the Earth (or in general between eighty and ninety kilometres), as this is the point after which the aircraft functions cannot be maintained, for the density of the atmosphere is not sufficient to support vehicles that have not achieved circular velocity (the air lift is virtually nil at that altitude). We can say that what can’t be considered an aircraft is a spacecraft. Space object can be described as any object launched into orbit from Earth, the Moon or other celestial bodies to travel to, in or through outer space, all artificial objects likely to find or evolve in outer space without the bearing strength of the air. A notional innovation came along with the Aerospace Object.

As a conclusion, we can consider Znamya objects to be space objects; the legal regime of space objects have applied to Znamya satellites. It would also be interesting to focus on environmental legal issues concerning that type of project.