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Extraterrestrial lab supporting Russian space program

Report from the 2012 Moscow meeting of the ICA Commission on Planetary Cartography

Evgeniia Gusakova explaining the DTM of the Lunokhod-1 landing site visualized in ArcScene; Ludmila Shishkina working on a Lunar photomosaic in ISIS (in the back).

Training on how to use command line ISIS, one of the using software in planetary cartography and image processing.

Moscow State University of Geodesy and Cartography (MIIGAiK) is the oldest of Russian Universities (since 1779) that now has 8500 students and a staff of over 600. In 2010 the university created a new Laboratory for space research named as MIIGAiK Extraterrestrial Lab (MExLab) where cartographic support for future Russian planetary missions is provided.

Students studying at this lab are devoted planetary cartographers. “We came here because this way we can support our future space missions; and we can also work on past missions’ datasets that had not been processed or analyzed; however, many of the data recorded on magnetic tapes are lost by now. And there is always something new in space” – say Ludmila Shishkina and Natalia Kozlova, who work at MExLab. The activities are carried out in four groups: Cartography and mapping; Multispectral image processing; Photogrammetry; and Geodesy and Navigation.

The MExLab was established from a mega-scale three-year grant from the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation called “Measures to attract leading scientists to Russian Educational Institutions”. The winning joint proposal by Jürgen Oberst (DLR) and Kira Shingareva (MIIGAiK) was selected from 500 proposals in 2010. The subject of the proposal was “to develop infrastructure and capability for MIIGAIK to take a significant role in planning, execution and analysis of data from Russian planetary missions” and also to develop “job opportunities to attract young scientists and students to pursue careers in geodesy, cartography and planetary science”. “This is very important”, explains Kira Shingareva, leader of planetary cartographic activities at MIIGAiK, “because after the perestroyka, planetary cartography was not at all attractive to students. They went to other companies who could pay them. This is why there is a large gap between the old generation and the new one: there are no middle-aged experts. The consequences are even worst in the space industry, where the lack of expertise may lead to rocket failures”.

Now there are about 50 scientists, including about 30 young, PhD students and half last-year students working at MExLab. “When they get diploma, they can join the Russian space program and help it to get back on its feet” – says Jürgen Oberst, who is the scientific leader of the project and head of the MExLab Photogrammetry group. However, if everything fails, these students will still be able to find a job, since they are very well educated in terrestrial geodesy and cartography. But the head of MExLab, Vasiliy Malinnikov believes that the Russian Federation will support future space research works and young scientists could continue their studies.

They participate in diverse projects which they presented at the meeting of the ICA Commission on Planetary Cartography held at MIIGAiK: Alexander Lojkin is working on Enceladus limb profiles; Natalia Kozlova creates DTMs of Soviet landing sites on the Moon while Marina Baskakova is producing the maps of these sites; Maxim Andreev and Anton Bystrov are creating image processing support the selection of Luna Glob landing sites for which Alexander Kokhanov is creating topographic maps in GIS, Alexander Zharov and his brother Oleg Zharov are hard working on producing a control network  of more than 100 thousand manually selected control points for the 3D modelling of Phobos, Vasily Dmitriev is modeling  martian meteoroid streams, Bulgn Mukabenova and Svetlana Afanasyeva are making crater statistics for the Phobos, Maria and Ekaterina Karpunkina are making crater statistics for the Moon, Evgeniia Gusakova is working on Lunokhod-1,2  landing site maps, just to name a few of the ongoing projects at MExLab, three years after its foundation. The students are making an incredible job here, which is also a result of the tireless work of the all scientists the lab, says Irina Karachevtseva, who is the head of the Cartography Group of MExLab. Post doc scientists Dmitry and Denis Uchaev study gravity fields of Phobos and Deimos using fractal modeling approach. Irina Nadejdina and Anatoliy Zubarev are leading young scientists of Geodesy Group who investigate Io, Ganymede, Enceladus, Ida and the Moon. They make photogrammetry image processing using Photomod software (produced by Russian developers) and teach students to create DEMs and orthomosaics of these bodies, including cartographic support of future Russian missions to the Polar area of Moon (Luna-Globe and Luna-Resource). All scientists hope that there will be a future Russian mission to Phobos, one of the Martian satellites, and they work on it.

Group photo of the scientists and students, who participated in the commission meeting at MIIGAiK.

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