The Spektr-RG space observatory will begin its hunt for dark energy after being launched aboard a Proton-M rocket yesterday. The observatory is a joint venture between the Russian Space Research Institute and the German Aerospace Center.
The Proton-M rocket carrying the Spektr-RG payload was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 12:31 UTC (17:31 local time) on July 13. The rocket was equipped with a Blok DM-03 upper stage which, following its separation from the Proton-M rocket’s upper stage, deployed the Spektr-RG space observatory into its designated transfer orbit. This is only the fourth time a Blok DM-03 upper stage has been used and only the second to have been used successfully.
Now deployed, the Spektr-RG spacecraft will begin a 100-day flight to a stable orbit in space called the second Lagrange point (more commonly known as an L2 orbit) 1.5 million kilometres from Earth. The orbit situates the spacecraft between the gravitational forces of the Sun and the Earth. At this point, the two gravitational forces balance each other out allowing the spacecraft to perform its mission while using a minimal amount of fuel.
Over its six-and-a-half-year mission, the Spektr-RG observatory will utilise its seven X-ray detectors to perform the largest ever survey of the hot Universe. It will scan the sky and map hot sources including active black holes, galaxy clusters, X-ray binaries, supernova remnants, and neutron stars.
“eROSITA’s X-ray ‘eyes’ are the best that have ever been launched as part of a space telescope,” explained Walther Pelzer, Executive Board Member for the Space Administration at the German Aerospace Center. “Their unique combination of light-collecting area, field-of-view and resolution makes them approximately 20 times more sensitive than the ROSAT telescope that flew to space in the 1990s. ”
The Spektr-RG observatory’s six-and-a-half-year mission will be split into two phases. The first will span four years and will involve a wide scan of as much of the sky as possible. The final two-and-a-half-year phase will involve pinpoint observations of specific objects in the Universe.