Spektr-R, Russia's only space radio telescope, stops responding to commands


The Spektr-R radio telescope at the Baikonur Space Center, within the integration and test complex of Launching Platform No. 31.
Photo: RIA Novosti (Wikimedia Commons)

Russia's only space telescope, the Spektr-R (Radio Astron), has stopped responding to the spacecraft's control team, the BBC reported on Saturday, although Astro Space Center chief Nikolai Kardashev told the BBC that he is still broadcasting scientific data.

The Spekt-R has a 33-foot radio dish antenna that works in conjunction with terrestrial radio telescopes under an international program. According to the BBC, the Roscosmos team said the spacecraft – launched in July 2011 on a Zenit-3F disposable transportable rocket – worked well beyond a five-year original life expectancy. He stopped responding on Friday, despite repeated attempts to re-establish a connection. Spektr-R's chief research officer Yuri Kovalev told the BBC that "there is still hope" that the Roscosmos team can restore functionality.

"Specialists from the Main Operational Group of Spacecraft Control are doing work to remove existing problems … As of January 10, 2019, problems have arisen in the operation of service systems that currently make it impossible to tackle a specific task." Roscosmos wrote in a statement to the Russian state news agency TASS.

Additional details about the nature of the malfunction were not immediately available.

Russia Beyond, another Russian state media source, reported in 2016 that Spektr-R should continue to operate until at least the end of 2018, with surveys including galactic cores and magnetic fields, quasars and pulsars, and other space projects:

The new program focuses on studies of inner regions of active galaxy and magnetic fields, monitoring the brightest quasars, researching water vapor clouds in space, pulsars and interstellar matter, gravitational experimentation, and so on.

The RadioAstron project is based on a ten-meter orbital radio telescope, the unique Spektr-R astrophysical observatory, which forms an integrated radio interferometer with a super-large base, along with terrestrial radio telescopes. The observatory is in charge of conducting fundamental astrophysical studies in bands of electromagnetic spectrum. RadioAstron records discrimination based on distances of up to 350,000 kilometers between telescopes.

Although it was first launched in 2011, SpaceNews reported at the time that the spacecraft was originally scheduled for a 2004 or 2005 release "before it encountered several delays in its construction."

Another recent radio telescope, the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME), is not yet fully operational, but it was news this week when it detected 13 new rapid radio bursts, mysterious high-energy pulses from unknown and distant sources which have traveled billions of years across the galaxy. Potential explanations for fast radio bursts include magnetars (fast spinning neutron stars), neutron star white dwarf fusions, collapsed stars, black holes, and – very lastly in evidence – some kind of artificial extraterrestrial source. Among CHIME's findings, the latter has reported a repeat of the rapid radio overflow, although the mission team told Science Magazine this week that they expect to find hundreds or even thousands of fast radio bursts.



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