Postponement of Spektr-RG space observatory launch due to discharged batteries
– News of June 25, 2019 –
Since the fall of the Sovietic Union, Russia’s economic difficulties have canceled most major scientific programs. That’s why the launch of the Spektr-RG space observatory by a Proton rocket that was planned last Friday is very important. The Spektr program was conceived in the 1980s with the same philosophy as the big American telescopes. It’s a series of space observatories. Each space observatory specializes in a small part of the electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves to high energy X-ray.
Nearly forty years later, this program continues to slowly be put in place. In 2011, the Spektr-R observatory and its huge 10-meter radio antenna were put into orbit. The first space telescope in the series was specialized in radio waves. Its elliptical orbit allowed interferometric observations up to 340,000 kilometers. Spektr-R has been particularly useful in the study of quasars and the formation of their jets. After seven and a half years in orbit, it was pronounced dead a few months ago.
The Spektr-RG telescope was designed for X-ray observations. It was developed in collaboration with the german space agency. It embarks two instruments that will allow it to monitor the entire celestial vault during its primary mission which will last four years. This should make possible to identify hundreds of thousands of galaxy clusters and to study the structure of the universe on a large scale.
After decades of development, Russian and German teams working on the project were very frightened on friday. It was realized on the launch pad that the batteries of the space observatory were empty. So it was almost a disaster. It is unfortunately not rechargeable batteries, so it will take to dismount the payload to change them. If all goes according to plan, the launch of Spektr-RG will take place from July 12th.
A malfunction of this magnitude reminds us of the drill in Soyuz, or the repeated problems on some Russian launchers. There is obviously a big problem of quality control in some industrial partners in Roscosmos. This is probably linked to a still very difficult budgetary situation for the Russian space program. Let’s hope that Spektr-RG takes off and reaches its orbit without any problem. The space observatory must be placed at the L2 Lagrange point of the Sun-Earth system.
Roscosmos plans to complete the Spektr program with a final space observatory. Spektr-UV will be specialized in ultraviolet. Once again conceived in partnership with European countries, it will be equipped with a 1.7-meter primary mirror and three scientific instruments, which will enable it to study the Milky Way’s star populations and their eventual accretion disk. Russia’s ambitious scientific missions are unfortunately rare. We hope that Spektr-RG will be a real success.