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Russia’s space telescope in orbit

Spektr-R begins five-year mission

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Russia is celebrating its return to heavy-hitter status in space, with the successful launch of the Spektr-R radio telescope from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Monday.

The radio telescope, which has now successfully reached orbit, is Russia’s answer to the Hubble Space Telescope, but with an added twist: its ability to link with ground-based radio telescopes in the international Radioastron project will give it an effective collection radius of 30 times Earth’s diameter, allowing it to view objects at 10,000 times Hubble’s resolution.

By Earth-bound telescope standards, the dish launched into space is tiny: a 10-meter instrument that will follow an elliptical orbit at an apogee of 340,000 km and dip to a wave-skimming perigee of just 1,000km.

Proposed and delayed since the 1980s, the launch of Spektr-R on its five-year mission comes as America says farewell to its Space Shuttle programme.

Although Russian-led, Spektr-R involves scientists from 20 nations, either through providing on-board hardware or through co-operation from terrestrial antennas.

According to Russia’s Federal Space Agency, the Radioastron programme will “obtain images, coordinates, motions and evolution of angular structure of different radio emitting objects”, including pulsars, interstellar plasma, black holes, and neutron stars. ®

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