Russia launched a new space telescope Saturday, the Spektr-RG, developed with Germany, is a space observatory intended to replace the Spektr-R, known as the “Russian Hubble”, which Roskosmos said it lost control of in January. Spektr-R was launched in 2011 to observe black holes, neutron stars and magnetic fields. Its successor will take up similar duties but will also map X-rays across the entire sky in unprecedented detail that will help trace the large-scale structure of the Universe.
The hope is Spektr-RG can provide fresh insights on the accelerating behavior of cosmic expansion, as well as identifying a staggering number of new X-ray sources, including three million supermassive black holes that reside at the center of galaxies. As gas falls into these monsters, the matter is heated and shredded and “screams” in X-rays.
Video posted on the website of the Roskosmos, the Russian space agency, showed a Proton-M rocket carrying the Spektr-RG taking off from the launch pad at Baikonur. The launch was originally scheduled for June 21 but was postponed twice because of a battery problem.
Russia’s space program, long a source of great pride to the nation, has suffered a series of humiliating setbacks in recent years, although the country remains committed to ambitious projects.
Since 2011, Russia has been the only country capable sending teams to the International Space Station (ISS). But a series of recent setbacks together with corruption scandals within Roskosmos and the competition from Elon Musk’s SpaceX have threatened its monopoly.
The next launch to the ISS is scheduled for July 20 and will carry an Italian and US astronauts together with a Russian cosmonaut.