Russia’s Spektr-R Space Radio Telescope Is No Longer Responding To Commands

Russian specialists are working to fix the problem.

The Spektr-R radio telescope at Baikonur Space Center, within the integration and test complex of Launch Pad No. 31.
RIA Novosti/Oleg Urusov / Wikimedia Commons/Cropped and Resized (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Russian specialists are working to fix the problem.

Spektr-R, the only radio telescope that Russia has flown into space, has suffered a malfunction and is currently incommunicado. Some of the spacecraft’s communication systems have apparently stopped working, causing the telescope to stop responding to commands from Earth, reports Gizmodo, citing the BBC.

The Spektr-R communication glitch was announced earlier today via Twitter by the Russian space agency Roscosmos, which noted that the first signs of trouble started to arise as early as January 10.

According to Yuri Kovalev, head of research for the Spektr-R project, the problems escalated until Roscosmos completely lost contact with the nation’s only orbiting radio telescope on yesterday morning of January 11.

While the radio telescope is currently deaf to the instructions of the spacecraft’s control staff, Spektr-R still has a voice. Nikolai Kardashev, head of Russia’s Astro Space Centre, told reporters that the telescope has not gone silent and is, in fact, still transmitting data.

Although the link to Spektr-R has gone down, Kovalev said that “there is still hope”. Russian engineers are hard at work trying to repair the lost connection and restore communication with the non-responsive space telescope.

“Specialists of the Main Operational Group of Spacecraft Control are carrying out work to remove the existing problems,” Roscosmos detailed in a Twitter update.

The next communication session with the Spektr-R space radio telescope is scheduled for tomorrow morning, at 6 a.m. EST.

Launched in 2011 on a Ukrainian Zenit-3F expendable carrier rocket, the Spektr-R radio telescope had an active operation warranty period of only three years, notes the Russian news agency TASS. While the warranty expired in 2014, the spacecraft has continued to function and was still tackling its targeted tasks when the communication breakdown occurred.

“Spektr-R exceeded the period of its active existence by two and a half times, continuing to perform the assigned tasks,” Roscosmos representatives wrote on Twitter.

According to RussianSpaceWeb, the Spektr-R space radio telescope was the first Russian astrophysics spacecraft to go into orbit in the 21st century. The satellite promised to open the door to a whole new generation of space observatories and to jump-start Russia’s space-based astronomy program.

Also known as RadioAstron, the telescope is equipped with a 33-foot radio antenna dish that works in conjunction with ground-based radio telescopes under an international program. The spacecraft was designed to help create a gigantic virtual telescope with an unprecedented resolution.

Spektr-R’s primary mission was to study the structure and dynamics of radio sources inside and outside of the Milky Way galaxy. A new Russian-German satellite, the Spektr-RG Space Observatory, is scheduled to launch into space this year. The spacecraft will carry five telescopes and all-sky monitors sensitive to X-rays and gamma rays.