| Development of the Spektr-RG project
At the beginning of 2015, a combination of several technical problems required to postpone the launch of Spektr-RG from 2016 to March 2017. However even the new launch date stayed on the books only until around August 2015.
In February 2015, scientists involved into the Spektr-RG project reviewed the status of the Russian-built ART-XC telescope for the observatory. Another meeting, which involved the Russian-German team took place at NPO Lavochkin on May 12. The development of the scientific instruments was moving forward, but still not fast enough to keep up with the existing schedule. As of June, the delivery of the flight-worthy ART-XC instrument was apparently not expected until March 2016, at the earliest.
In the meantime, in Germany, engineers at the Max Planck Institute also faced technical challenges with the completion of the eROSITA telescope. By August, flight versions of all mirrors, flight cameras, filter wheels and the complete structure and the cooling system for eROSITA were finally delivered. Around 90 percent of the necessary electronic components was also in place, however, Russian media reported problems in obtaining US-built components, which could become the subject of anti-Russian sanctions in the wake of the annexation of Crimea.
As of the end of summer, the final calibration of the eROSITA's mirrors was planned to be completed by November 15. In parallel, engineers were also assembling cameras with filter wheels and electronics, which also had to be calibrated along with their respective mirrors. Following the calibration process, each mirror-camera pair had to be integrated into the eROSITA telescope. If everything went as scheduled, the instrument would be fully assembled around Christmas of 2015, followed by a series of end-to-end tests. However, the delivery of the eROSITA to Russia had to be postponed from October 2015 to February 2016.
As with many other projects led by NPO Lavochkin, scientific teams providing instruments for the Spektr-RG observatory had little insight into the overall progress with the spacecraft itself.
What was clear was that NPO Lavochkin had completed the assembly of the spacecraft prototype for electric and radio tests, collectively known as ERTI. Engineers also used it for testing the flight software. In June, RIA Novosti quoted an official at NPO Lavochkin as saying that the "first phase" of electrical tests on the Spektr-RG spacecraft had been completed. The statement indicated that the service module of the spacecraft was electrically integrated with test prototypes of scientific instruments.
Still, by the end of 2015, the launch of Spektr-RG was postponed from the first quarter of 2017 to September 25, 2017. To meet this launch date, the assembly of the spacecraft would have to be completed by July 2017, according to the head of NPO Lavochkin Sergei Lemeshevsky as quoted by RIA Novosti in December. At the time, the delivery of the eROSITA and ART-XC instruments was expected in April and May 2016.
Also, a potential issue arose with the launch of Spektr-RG on a Zenit rocket, due to Russia's conflict with Ukraine, where the launcher had been built. Although the rocket for the Spektr-RG mission was already in storage at the Russian launch site in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, the cooperation of Ukrainian specialists would be required for a successful launch campaign. Fortunately, in December 2015, the Russian-Ukrainian team demonstrated a seemingly flawless performance, successfully launching the Elektro-L2 satellite on the Zenit.
Last but not least, the financial health of the project had to be ensured, given the latest financial crisis in the Russian economy. Thanks to the mature state of the Spektr-RG, it emerged relatively unscathed from the budget cuts. The final version of the Federal Space Program covering the period from 2016 to 2025, which was approved at the end of 2015, allocated a total of 5,609 million rubles for the Spektr-RG project (approximately $72.76 million as of February 2016). This relatively modest amount had to cover the work on the project from 2016 through the seven-year life span of the observatory in orbit until 2024:
The approved budget for the Spektr-RG project, (as of December 4, 2015):
In addition, 28 million and 43 million rubles ($0.36 million and $0.56 million) were allocated for the launch activities of the Spektr-RG project in 2016 and 2017 respectively, which would culminate with the liftoff on the Zenit-M rocket from Baikonur.
A footage released at the beginning of 2016, shows what appears to be a test prototype of the Russian-built ART-XC telescope electrically connected to the Navigator service module (right). The article was apparently assembled in October 2013. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos