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Space telescope

July 19, 2011

Spectrum-R is the most advanced space radio telescope ever built, experts say. Russia is eager to show its resurgence in space exploration, particularly as NASA shuts down its shuttle program.

The Spectrum-R was launched into space on MondayImage: Yuzhny Space Center

A new Russian space telescope has "reached the targeted orbit," as of Monday morning, Russia time, the Russian space agency Roscosmos said in an English-language statement on its website.

The new observatory, known as Spectrum-R, is designed to study sources of radio waves from stellar phenomena, including pulsars, quasars, black holes, and neutron stars. The agency added that the space telescope will have a minimum lifetime of "no less than five years."

telescope being loaded
Russian scientists say that the telescope is designed to last for at least five yearsImage: Yuzhny Space Center

"We will be able to observe very remote parts of the universe and to receive a highly accurate data about various galactic phenomena," said Viktor Khartov, the chief of the Lavochkin Research and Production Association, in an interview with the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS.

"The scientists in the whole world are looking forward for this," he added.

A Soviet legacy

The space telescope was initially conceived of decades ago, during the halcyon days of the Soviet space program, but was perpetually postponed, and was mothballed after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

"For 20 years, it was always five years away," said Ken Kellermann of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in the United States, in an interview with the American magazine New Scientist.

Rocket launch
Russian space authorities said the telescope reached its target orbit several hours after launchImage: Yuzhny Space Center

The telescope, which is also known as RadioAstron, has a 10-meter (32.8-foot) diameter, a small size when compared to many current terrestrial radio telescopes. However, given that its data will be combined with signals collected from Earth stations, and the fact that it will have a large 340,000-kilometer (around 211,000-mile) orbit, the telescope is expected to have a resolution 100,000 times better than the American-built Hubble Space Telescope, which was launched in 1990.

Russian space authorities are planning on coordinating the new telescope's observations with radio telescopes in the United States, Puerto Rico and Germany.

This year is significant for the Russian space program, as it surges ahead during the hiatus of manned American space missions. Earlier this year, Moscow feted the 50th anniversary of the first manned spaceflight, by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. All international space missions ferrying humans into space will have to be launched via the Russian Soyuz capsule from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

"The main point is that Russia is returning to scientific programs in space after a long break," said Vladimir Popovkin, the head of Roscosmos, according to ITAR-TASS.

Author: Cyrus Farivar (AFP, ITAR-TASS)
Editor: Louisa Schaefer