Russia plans to send largest radio telescope beyond moon in 2020s

7 Jan, 2019 15:28

Russia is designing the largest-ever radio telescope, seeking to put it into space beyond the orbit of the moon. The probe, expected to be completed by mid-2020s, will be able to provide the most detailed pictures of the universe.

The telescope will be put into the so-called halo orbit – the complex three-dimensional orbit beyond Earth’s natural satellite. The Millimetron (Spektr-M) is expected to boast significantly larger capabilities than its predecessor, the RadioAstron telescope, which was launched into space back in 2011 in cooperation between Russia and foreign space-exploring agencies.

RadioAstron, also known as Spektr-R, is one of the largest telescopes ever put into space. Together with ground facilities spread across the globe, it boasts the highest angular resolution of its kind, and is able to produce the most detailed images of the universe.

However, the Millimetron will take pictures of four-times-higher resolution than its older brother, Vyacheslav Vdovin, a leading fellow with the Russian Institute of Applied Physics at the Russian Academy of Sciences, told RIA Novosti.

The telescope will be able to operate autonomously or work together with a ground-based counterpart. The Millimetron and the ground facility will therefore form a “virtual telescope” with interferometric baselines of a whopping 1.5 million kilometers, reaching deep into the farthest corners of the universe.

While not all the subsystems of the new telescope have been built yet, it’s likely to be a success, given the knowledge that scientists have accumulated while working on the Spektr-R, Alexey Smirnov, technical director of the Millimetron project, told RIA Novosti.

“The best working prototype for the Millimetron is the RadioAstron. It has been developed by the same designer,” Smirnov said. “It has antennae of the same diameter – 10 meters. Yet, the new telescope has even higher working frequency, cryogenic mirror and tons of other improvements.”

Work on the Millimetron project has taken longer than expected, since many of its features are unique, the official explained. The project was launched in the early 2010s, shortly before the RadioAstron was deployed. The delivery of the telescope, however, has already been delayed and it is now expected to be completed by the mid-2020s at the earliest.