Russia lost control of its only space telescope


Conceptual art of Spektr-R. Image: © Astro Space Center of the Lebedev Institute

Russia has lost control of its Spektr-R satellite, which carries the only telescope the nation has deployed in space.

Although Spektr-R is still transmitting scientific information and orbiting normally, it stopped responding to commands from mission leaders in Russia on Friday, the BBC reported.

Yuri Kovalev, head of research at the Spektr-R mission, told the Russian news agency TASS that the fault occurred when a ground signal did not start a transmitter. It is not clear what caused the crash, but TASS said Monday that a speculative explanation could be a damage caused by cosmic radiation in the spacecraft's electronic system.

The fact that the satellite still sends messages about its activities suggests that the load and the scientific operations were not affected by the malfunction of the communications.

"It means our satellite is alive, it has energy on board, the scientific equipment continues to work and there is still a point in trying to establish contact with it," Kovalev said. Efforts to communicate with the spacecraft continued on Monday.

Launched in July 2011, the Spektr-R is equipped with radio antennas 10 meters wide designed to capture radio emissions in the Milky Way and beyond.

See More Information: Russia's space chief suggests leak of International Space Station may be sabotage

As part of the international program of RadioAstron, based in Moscow, the satellite allowed scientists to study exotic objects such as quasars and black holes located billions of light years from Earth. As the spacecraft's highly elliptical orbit about 300,000 kilometers of terrestrial radio telescopes on our planet, it can help produce high resolution images.

The mission was expected to last five years, then exceeded its life expectancy. Although it is a setback if contact with the satellite is permanently lost, Russia is planning to join German scientists to launch a successor satellite, called Spektr RG, later in 2019.

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