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Above: Crowned with a 10-meter antenna, the Spektr-R radio telescope undergoes final tests. Credit: NPO Lavochkin.


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Origin of the project

Designed to listen for sources of radio waves in the Universe, Spektr-R (a.k.a. Radioastron) became the first Russian astrophysics spacecraft to go into orbit in the 21st century. It promised to pioneer a whole new generation of space observatories and to jump-start space-based astronomy in the nation. Roots of the Spektr program go all the way back to the beginning of the 1980s.


Building the spacecraft

In 2002, the Russian Academy of Sciences gave Spektr-R the highest priority among the nation's astrophysics missions. Its launch was then timed for 2004-2006, or no later than 2007, to beat similar US and Japanese missions, which were anticipated in 2008. As of 2004, the launch of Spektr-R was expected in 2006 and by 2005, the mission slipped to 2007. Symptomatic of technical and organizational problems of the Russian space industry, the Spektr-R project could not reach the launch pad until 2011.


The mission scenario

The primary goal of the Spektr-R mission was to study structure and dynamics of radio sources inside and outside of our Milky Way galaxy. This research was expected to help in the understanding of fundamental problems of astrophysics and cosmology, including the structure of galaxies, star formations, black holes, dark matter and interstellar space. By placing a radio telescope into space it would be possible in conjunction with ground-based antennas to form a gigantic virtual telescope. It was expected that ground telescopes in Australia, Chile, China, Europe, India, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Ukraine and USA would join the Spektr-R in observations.


Spektr-R enters orbit

Triumphing over three decades of historic cataclysms, economic problems and social cynicism, Russian astrophysical science re-invaded the outer space with its first 21st-century orbital observatory. The historic importance of the Spektr-R mission, which successfully reached orbit Monday morning, is difficult to overestimate.



Spacecraft design

The heart of the telescope would be a 10-meter antenna, sporting 27 carbon fiber petals. Petals surrounded a solid focal dish with a diameter of three meters. When open, the mirror of the telescope would have to retain its position within just two millimeters of the pre-determined curve. The spacecraft was designed to be launched by the Zenit rocket with the Fregat upper stage.


Navigator service module

Like all other space observatories in the Spektr series, the Spektr-R mission was built around the standard Navigator platform, which served as a service module for the spacecraft. It provided navigation, power-supply and flight control functions for the Spektr-R mission.


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