A unique RadioAstron (or Spektr R) space telescope has been produced in Russia. It is to be launched into Earth orbit from the Baikonur cosmodrome in two months.
At the heart of the complex is a gigantic 10-metre parabolic mirror. 27 yellow petals of its aerial form a bud-like case. “The space radio telescope will operate together with the largest ground radio telescopes of Australia, Germany, the USA, the UK and Russia,” says Sergey Likhachev, the head of a department of the Astro-Space Centre of the Lebedev Physics Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences.
“Scientists from 20 countries are putting together the research programme and guarantee the involvement of the largest ground telescopes in the project. These telescopes have huge aerials with diameters of 64-70-100 metres, the largest in the world at present. The record parameters of this mission, owing to its 350,000 km apogee, provide for a very high angular resolution, much higher than that of any other space telescope currently in orbit, including the American Hubble. This will enable us to build detailed images that are only a dream for the Hubble.”
RadioAstron will provide information about radiation sources in space with a resolution that is 1,000 times higher than what the Hubble space telescope provides. Research will be carried out thus: a signal ray will be beamed from RadioAstron to some remote spot of the Universe. A ray from a ground radio telescope will be beamed to the same spot simultaneously. The signals are reflected, to be recorded by the aerials, after which all data is tabulated. These paired astronomical devices are called interferometers. They allow to obtain highly precise images, as the satellite orbit carries them huge distances apart. For example, we can detect the radiation from microscopic objects with an angular diameter comparable with that of a bean on the Moon’s surface. Incredible opportunities open up in astrophysics. “We are facing new discoveries,” Sergey Likhachev says.
“Apart from breathtaking future scientific results of the RadioAstron mission, our people have come across a very interesting issue related to developing new computing methods, which is very important for future radioastronomic experiments. In my opinion, we are standing on the threshold of a revolution in astrophysics when things like dark matter, and black and white holes start to become observable through these missions. RadioAstron is not the only mission planned by the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Federal Space Agency. A Millimetron mission is scheduled for 2018, which is expected to yield even more incredible results and to provide a full picture of the Universe around us.”
The RadioAstron project was a fruit of the labour of the whole world for the benefit of the whole world. This project will enable scientists to research interstellar and interplanetary plasma, and to study the Earth’s gravitation field, the near space and its relationship with the Sun. It will lift the veil on the numerous mysteries of deep space.