Russia has successfully launched a new telescope into space, marking a major milestone for the country’s space science program — and potentially paving the way for the mapping of the cosmos at a level of detail never before achieved.
The Spektr-RG telescope, a Russian-German joint venture, was successfully delivered into orbit by a Russian Proton-M rocket, The Associated Press reported. The rocket was launched, following repeated delays, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Saturday evening, local time.
“Lagrange points are unique positions in the solar system where objects can maintain their position relative to the sun and the planets that orbit it,” AP explained.
L2, located about a million miles from Earth, is a popular “parking place” for observatories as it offers a clear view of deep space. Once there, the telescope’s goal will be to conduct a complete X-ray survey of the sky ― one carried out “with outstanding sensitivity,” according to Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency.
It would be the first-ever map of the universe in high-energy X-rays, Nature magazine noted.
Such a map “will be essential to solve the core questions of modern cosmology,” Roscosmos said in a press release. “How do dark energy and dark matter affect formation of the large-scale structure of the Universe? What is [the] cosmological evolution of supermassive black holes?”
The agency added that the telescope, which has reportedly taken decades to develop, is expected to find about “100,000 massive clusters of galaxies” and millions of supermassive black holes ― many of them new to science ― over a four-year survey period.
If Spektr-RG reaches L2, it will be the first Russian spacecraft to venture beyond Earth’s orbit since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. As AP noted, the success of the mission would be a huge boon to Russia’s space program, which has suffered from decades of budget cuts and failed projects.
This mission would put Russia at the “forefront of X-ray astronomy,” said Kirpal Nandra of Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, one of Moscow’s collaborators on the Spektr-RG project.
“It’s a massive opportunity for them,” Nandra said, speaking to the BBC this week.