Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Old memories revived

       At about 8 a.m. on Monday when the two-stage 20-storeyed tall Zenit 3F rocket lifted with an awesome roar from the Baikonour cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, not many perhaps were aware that it had an Indian connection, hitherto unknown.

       What was the link? Nothing big, but perhaps something quite interesting. The 8000-pound Spektri-R satellite, a 10-metre Russian space telescope, which will operate from an altitude of 210,000 miles from the earth, was equipped with an Indian component. The primary mission of the satellite will be to peer inside black holes, obtain views of collapsed stars and improve the measurement of the influence of dark energy on the cosmos.

       The other nations which have contributed to the programme include the US, China, Australia, Japan, Germany, Spain, Italy, Finland, Hungary, The Netherlands and the European Space Agency.

        Speaking to ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM),'' dean of Giant Metre Radio Telescope (GMRT), Yeshwant Gupta, said that Indian contribution was a receiver system which was designed and developed by a team of engineers of the Pune-based National Centre of Radio Astrophysics (NCRA), which is a part of Tifr.  The GMRT falls under the purview of NCRA.

        Gupta said that the story of the receiver dates back to 15 years! After it was designed by NCRA engineers, it was built and space qualified at Isro's Ahmedabad-based Space Application Centre and then dispatched to Russia to be integrated with the satellite. Remember, this was 15 years ago!

        However, for reasons mainly financial the mission got postponed and there was no indication initially as to when it would be launched. As a result, the instrument got mothballed and started gathering dust at Russia's Astro Space Centre of the P.N.Lebedev Physical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Even the Indian team almost forgot the mission.

       Spektr-R project was overall designed by the Astro Space Centre, the S.A.Lavochkin Federal Research and Production Association and Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency.  

       In the recent past, Russia decided to revive the programme and initiated plans to launch the massive space telescope. ``When our instrument was retested at the Astro Space Centre it functioned flawlessly much to our delight,'' remarked Gupta. The role of the instrument will be to pick up radio waves from different objects.

       The Spektr-R satellite also called RadioAstron is part of an international network of observatories. When linked with ground-based telescopes across the globe, Spektr-R will facilitate unprecedented views into black holes that form the centre of galaxies.

       The combination of ground and space-based telescope is known as ``interferometry,'' which can pick up faint radio signals. One of the primary targets of the RadioAstron group in Russia is to study a nearby galaxy called M817.

        According to Astro Space Centre, some of the ground-based facilities which are expected to participate include the 1000-foot diameter Arecibo observatory in Puerto Rico, the Green Bank telescope in West Virginia and a 330-foot wide dish in Effelsburg, Germany.

        Gupta said that India has been invited to participate in the international astronomial experiments and the proposal was under consideration. 

        All the very best.

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