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Russia's RadioAstron telescope finally set to launch, blanket space with its radio eye

Amar Toor, @amartoo
07.17.11
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Considering all the space nostalgia we've been swimming in recently, it's somewhat appropriate that a Cold War-era telescope is gearing up to make its maiden voyage, after more than three decades of development (and delays). The Russian mission, known as RadioAstron, will finally become a reality on Monday, when a radio telescope launches from Kazakhstan's Baikonur cosmodrome before soaring into orbit some 350,000 kilometers away from the Earth. At just ten meters in width, the craft's antenna is small in comparison to other radio 'scopes, but its reach can be dramatically expanded when combined with signals from those on the ground. This technique, called interferometry, will effectively create the largest telescope ever built, covering an area nearly 30 times the Earth's diameter and allowing RadioAstron to capture interstellar images in 10,000 times the resolution of the Hubble Space Telescope. There remains, however, one major hurdle -- because the spacecraft collects data at about 144 megabits per second, it must constantly transfer information to antennas on the ground. Problem is, there's only one antenna capable of receiving RadioAstron's signals and, unless others are constructed soon, a healthy chunk of its observations could be lost. How do you say "buzz-kill" in Russian?

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