NASA isn’t the only space agency experiencing space telescope problems as of late. In an unforeseen turn of events, officials with Russia’s space agency Roscosmos announced over the weekend that they’d lost control of the nation’s only Earth-orbiting radio telescope, Spektr-R.
Image Credit: NPO Lavochkin
The space agency’s staff allegedly experienced complications communicating with Spektr-R beginning Thursday, January 10th, but the communication link didn’t officially go down until the next day. Multiple attempts to reestablish a healthy connection with the spacecraft since then have unfortunately proven unsuccessful.
"Beginning with January 10, 2019, problems emerged in the operation of the service systems that currently make it impossible to tackle a targeted task," Roscosmos explained in a public statement. "Specialists of the Main Operational Group of Spacecraft Control are carrying out work to remove the existing problems."
Roscosmos launched its Spektr-R radio telescope into space in 2011 with a five-year projected life expectancy; however, the spacecraft appears to have exceeded all expectations thus far. Whether this is the end for the little radio telescope that could or not remains to be seen, but those involved with the mission seem to be optimistic about the situation.
Project lead researcher Yuri Kovalev, says “there is still hope” for reestablishing a connection.
Spektr-R holds valuable scientific data about the universe that mission scientists hope to salvage, so another attempt to reconnect with the spacecraft’s communication antenna will take place on Monday.
At the time of this writing, Roscosmos hasn’t revealed the cause for the communication error with Spektr-R, nor its plans if attempts to reestablish a connection are unsuccessful once more. On the other hand, Roscosmos is expected to launch the spacecraft’s successor, Spektr-RG, in March of this year. It will follow in Spektr-R’s footsteps, expanding upon its research as it does.
Somewhat ironically, NASA too is dealing with space telescope issues. The Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3 instrument experienced technical difficulties and was ordered to shut down Tuesday after spacecraft engineers couldn’t resolve the problem. To make matters worse, the government shutdown has left the American space agency short-staffed, delaying a prompt resolution.
It should be interesting to see if Roscosmos can get a grip on its radio telescope. After all, it’s never ideal when an expensive spacecraft suddenly ceases to function as expected.