Russia Launches Spektr-RG, a New X-Ray Observatory, into Space

A Russian and European all-sky-survey satellite is safely in space following a successful launch on a Proton rocket in Saturday (July 13).

The Spektrum-Röntgen-Gamma mission, also known as Spektr-RG, is a joint project between the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, and the German space agency, DLR. Spektr-RG launched to space from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 8:31 a.m. EDT (1231 GMT, or 5:31 p.m. local time).

Saturday's launch followed weeks of delays. An attempt to launch the Spektr-RG mission on June 21 was delayed by a battery drain on the Proton rocket's Block DM upper stage, according to Spaceflight Now. Roscosmos then postponed a second launch attempt Friday (July 12) due to an potential issue with the booster.

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Spektr-RG will next navigate to a stable orbit in space called a Lagrange point (specifically, L2), where the gravitational forces of two large objects — in this case, the sun and the Earth — balance each other out. This location will allow Spektr-RG to perform its observations while using a minimal amount of fuel.

The spacecraft is expected to detect 100,000 galaxy clusters, 3 million supermassive black holes, tens of thousands of star-forming galaxies, the presence of plasma (superheated gas) and many more types of objects, according to Roscosmos.

The observatory includes two X-ray mirror telescopes, called ART-XC and eROSITA. ART-XC (a Russian payload) will examine the higher energies of X-rays, up to 30 keV, while eROSITA (Extended Roentgen Survey with an Imaging Telescope Array) is optimized for an energy range of 0.5 to 10 keV.

KeV is a measure referring to electrical potential difference. A single electron volt (eV) is a unit of energy equal to the amount of energy an electron (negatively charged particle) gains when it is accelerated from rest through a potential difference of 1 volt. A kiloelectron volt (keV) is equal to 1,000 electron volts. 

ART-XC will have a narrower field of view and is designed to look at objects with a lower range of energies than eROSITA, according to Russian Space Web's Anatoly Zak. "The overlap in the sensitivity of eROSITA and ART-XC was reported to be useful for the calibration of the two instruments and increasing the reliability of their scientific results," he wrote.

Spektr-RG is expected to be calibrated in about three months; it will then perform its survey. 

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace