Russian telescope launch pulls national space program out of black hole
The Spektr-R, a space telescope that was put in orbit Monday, is just one of the ways the Russian space program is getting back on track.
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"This is going to open up a whole new era in astronomy and astrophysics," he says. "It's a huge contribution to world science. Russia has held advanced positions traditionally, and this is a logical next step for our space program. It's just great."Skip to next paragraph
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Scientists from more than 20 countries will participate in RadioAstron's five-year mission, according to the Russian Space Agency.
Russia's space program fell on hard times after the collapse of the USSR 20 years ago, and even a few years ago appeared to be little more than a "space taxi" to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
But with increased funding and improving morale, Russian space scientists now have a variety of ambitious projects on the agenda. They include a manned mission to Mars by 2030, a space plane to rival the US X-37B, and a nuclear-powered spacepod that could gobble up space junk like an orbiting Pac-Man.
Despite some very serious recent setbacks, Russia's answer to the US Global Positioning System (GPS) navigational network, Glonass, is slated to be fully operational by the end of this year. In November, Russia will finally launch its long-awaited Phobos-Grunt probe, which aims to bring home a soil sample from the Martian moon Phobos.
And with the end of the US space shuttle program, even Russia's traditional space niche of powerful rocket launchers and venerable Soyuz space vehicles is set to become the only game in town.
"Russia is returning to scientific programs in space after a long break," Vladimir Popovkin, chief of the Russian space agency Roskosmos, was quoted as saying by the official Itar-TASS agency Monday.
But despite all this good news, some space experts strike a cautionary note.
"The old problems of Russian space industries are still with us: low productivity and lack of technical discipline," says independent expert Andrei Ionin. "There could be lots of problems in future.
"Still, this is a great moment. Our people can raise their heads and be proud," he adds.