Russia on Monday launched into space its Spektr-R radio telescope planned to be the most powerful ever, the first deep space observatory sent up by Moscow in a quarter of a century.
Spektr-R will scour the fringes of the universe for black holes, mysterious quasar radio sources and also the fast rotating stellar remnants known as pulsars, Russian space agency Roskosmos said in a statement.
“It will allow us to look into the furthest reaches of the universe with a very sharp resolution and receive data about extra-galactic phenomena,” said the project’s constructor Viktor Khartov of the Lavochkin institute outside Moscow.
“The whole world is waiting for this,” he added, quoted by Russian news agencies.
The observatory successfully blasted off from Russia’s Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 0231 GMT on a Zenit rocket, Roskosmos said.
It will have a highly elliptical orbit of around 340,000 kilometres, benefitting from the moon’s gravity, and an official working life of five years, although its creators hope it may last even longer.
Boasting a 10-metre diameter antenna, Spektr-R’s creators say that it will be able to produce images with a resolution 100,000 times that of the famed US Hubble Space telescope.
Working with ground based telescopes, Spektr-R will be able to create a virtual base for receiving data 340,000-kilometres long.
The telescope, which official Russian news agencies said is the first such launched by Moscow for 25 years, comes as Russia is seriously returning to deep space exploration after years of absence.
It is due in November to finally launch its eagerly-awaited Fobos-Grunt probe, which will seek to return a soil sample from the Martian moon Fobos to earth and also observe the Red Planet.
Celebrating the 50th anniversary year of Yuri Gagarin’s first manned space flight, Russia is hoping to show it remains a global power in space science despite a string of setbacks over the last years.