Sunday, May 17, 2015

Spektr-RG Astrophysics Observatory to Be Launched in 2016-2017

Artist's rendering of Spektr-RG. Image Credit: NPO Lavochkin

Russian aerospace company NPO Lavochkin has revealed that the Russian-German space observatory Spektr-RG, being built under the leadership of the Russian Space Research Institute (IKI), will be launched at the end of 2016 or beginning of 2017. "The mission is expected to be launched at the end of 2016 or beginning of 2017," the company said in a statement, after a session of designers and manufacturers who participate in the space project. The Spektr-RG astrophysics observatory includes five telescopes spanning the energy range from the far ultraviolet to the hard X-ray, an all-sky monitor. It will study interplanetary magnetic fields, galaxies and black holes. The spacecraft will observe dedicated sky regions with high sensitivity and perform follow-up pointed observations of selected sources. The satellite will be based on Lavochkin's Navigator bus.

The payload of Spektr-RG was ultimately limited to two instruments: eROSITA (Extended Röntgen Survey with an Imaging Telescope Array) Wolter telescopes provided by the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (Germany) and ART-XC Coded-mask telescopes built by IKI/VNIIEF (Russian Federal Nuclear Centre).

The 2,400 kg observatory is expected to be launched on Zenit-SB rocket with Fregat or Fregat-SB upper stage from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The spacecraft will be put in a halo orbit around the Lagrange point L-2. Spektr-RG is expected to function until 2024. It will need around three months to reach its final destination, where it is expected to spend at least four years circling L-2 in a 40,000-kilometer ellipse on a mission to conduct a global survey of the sky. Three following years would be spent observing particular objects. If successful, the Spektr-RG would likely be the first Russian spacecraft reaching any of the Lagrange points.

L-2 would be an ideal spot for the mission. This celestial "neighborhood" provides "quiet" gravitational and magnetic conditions for the satellite without many disturbances and no traces of thin air slowing down the spacecraft in the low Earth orbit.

The development of the mission started in 2005. It is a revived, redesigned version of the earlier Spektr-RG (SXG) mission cancelled in 2002. The launch date of Spektr-RG was postponed several times. The original plan was to launch the satellite in 2012, onboard the Soyuz-2/Fregat booster. On the Russian side the biggest obstacle causing delays was presented by an X-band radio communications system for the spacecraft. NPO Lavochkin was considering switching from a movable High-Gain Antenna on the spacecraft to a less-capable Medium-Gain Antenna. In Germany, developers hit a major problem during the integration of around 60 circuit boards with up to 30,000 individual components on the eROSITA telescope. The delivery of flight versions of German eROSITA and ART-XC telescopes was set for July-October 2015.

The Spektr-RG observatory will be another Spektr-class space observatory. The successful launch of the project’s first spacecraft (Spektr-R) was made on July 18, 2011.

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