The project we are working on now is a series of Spectr space probes - unique orbiting astrophysical observatories. By saying "we" I have in mind scientists, R&D experts, technologists, test pilots and other staff members of the Lavochkin R&D Amalgamation, RAS Institute of Astronomy, RAS Institute of Space Studies, Astrocosmic Center of the RAS Institute of Physics named after Lebedev and several other firms and organizations. The project is headed by our Director General who is also our General Designer, Stanislav Kuiikov, Dr. Sc. (Tech.). The main sections of the Project are headed by scientists of world rank, including academicians Alexander Boyarchuk (head of the Spectr- UF section), Rashid Syunyaev (head of the Spectr-RG section) and Nikolai Kardashev (head of the Spectr-R section). In the present article I would like to discuss some of the problems we have had to deal with in recent time and some of our achievements.
by Yuri MARKOV, test engineer, Lavochkin R&D Center
First of all, I would like to stress how lucky we all have been on this planet of ours. In addition to protecting all forms of life from lethal space rays, the Earth's atmosphere is quite transparent in the optical band which rewards us with an opportunity to admire fascinating pictures of the starlit night sky, enjoy the miracle of moonlight and the changing colors of the dawn. All of these wonderful phenomena gave birth to one of the oldest and most exciting sciences - the science of astronomy.
But speaking in strictly scientific terms, the Earth's atmosphere is transparent but only in two and rather narrow "windows": the optical one in the band of 0.3 to 1.5-2 mcm (the next stretch of up to 8 mcm consists of a number of narrow transmission or pass bands) and the radio frequency range, covering wavelengths from 1 mm to 15-30 m. In view of these natural "limitations" it has been only natural for astronomers to be looking for ways and means of taking their instruments beyond the confines of the Earth's atmosphere. This dream became a reality after man's breakthrough into space (1957) after which all kinds of astrophysical gear used for the studies of heavenly bodies could be placed into near-Earth orbits. In March 1983 we launched our first "home-made" Astron ("Zvezdny") astronom satellite with an ultraviolet telescope on board (UVT).
But why, you may ask, have the scientists' expectations been dragging on for a whole quarter of a century? To begin with, it was necessary to design and build a telescope large enough, but not too large, at one and the same time which could sustain great overloads and vibrations during the launch and which could operate successfully in the conditions of what we call open space. This instrument was designed and built by experts of the Crimean Astrophysical Observatory working in conjunction with our own researchers. And it was the world's biggest space telescope of that time with its main mirror being 80 cm in diameter and the tubus length of 5 m.
Second, a lot depended on the accuracy of its focusing on the object of observations. It had to be kept down to the fractions of arc seconds (arc second-an angle at which a human hair can be observed from a distance of 50 m). And all of these things depended on the parameters of a space platform carrying the UVT. This platform was designed by a team of experts headed by Corresponding Member of the USSR Academy of Sciences, Georgi Babakin. Its long and eventful history covers the launchings of Mars (1971), Venera (1975), Vega (1984) and Granat (1989)-a stretch of nearly 30 years!
But why was it that the first of these flights was linked, above all, with the studies of the ultraviolet rays? The thing is that the UV- band in astrophysics is divided into four sub-bands with the radiation of the nearest one capable of passing through the Earth's atmosphere (giving us suntan, or sunburn). And the other three cover the bulk of the spectrum lines of the atoms and molecules contained in the stars, galaxies and interstellar space. And as many as 99.9 percent of all atoms in the Universe belong to hydrogen and helium, with their resonance lines being observed only in the UV band with its most intense emissions of nitrogen, oxygen and carbon.
The UVT was named Spica after the brightest star in the Virgo constellation-the symbol of France. That was because this was an international project, since the spectrometer for this telescope was designed by Russian experts in conjunction with the Marseilles Lab of cosmic astronomy.
Today, some 20 years later, I can let the cat out of the bag and describe a dramatic episode which took place on the cosmodrome and which gave us all plenty of grey hairs. But let us begin from the beginning.
So, light rays enter the telescope, are reflected by its main mirror at the end of the tube and hit the second mirror placed up above and facing the main one. Then they go back through a slit and hit a diffraction lattice with the photomultipliers of the spectrometer. That sounds simple enough had it not been for the truly fantastic accuracy requirements (down to fractions of a microne). This being so, during the ground tests of the telescope we even held back our breath after its systems were "re-arrested" or unlocked. The UVT was "fenced off' for safety and there was a "HANDS OFF" warning sign over the enclosure.
As we entered the final stage of our preparations on the cosmodrome, everything was going on schedule and there were no problems in sight. Then comes a bolt from the blue: Defense Minister, Sergei Sokolov, wants to make a stop-over at the cosmodrome on his way back from a visit to Afghanistan. As fate would have it, the
then commander of the Baikonur Cosmodrome had far from a flawless service record. And he decided to make the best of the visit of his superior. That meant a sleepless night for us all during which we cleaned and polished the site down to the last brick.
Being at the last stage of physical and mental fatigue Lieutenant- Colonel, Valery Lebedenko, with a dozen of soldiers were rolling out of the shed a heavy railway flatcar. They were so occupied with the strain that they failed to see a temporary ladder-stand placed right next to the rails. And the side of the flatcar caught the ladder-stand (with the crew upon it nearly dropping off), and the stand hit the telescope enclosure and the horizontal platform with the "HANDS OFF" instrument upon it. All of us who were there on the scene were gripped with panic: years of hard work of hundreds of experts were about to be lost together with billions of budget allocations.
I heard Commander Lebedenko, who was absolutely beyond himself with panic, whisper to me: "Yuri, please help! Now they'll sure put me behind the bars..." Shortly after there appeared on the scene in the assembly and testing shed Major-General Alexei Shumilin - head of the Proving Grounds management (director, or commander, of the cosmodrome from 1992 to 1997, with the rank of Lieutenant-General and the title of Hero of Socialist Labour), an outstanding expert in missile technology. We met first when he was still a second lieutenant and by the time of the aforesaid drama we had been friends for almost 20 years. So, I rushed to calm him down, saying - "Do not panic, Alexei! Marshal is still on his way, and help is here already".
At about that time (what a stroke of luck!) there landed a regular flight among whose passengers was a senior expert of the Crimean Astrophysical Observatory, chief designer of the precious telescope Dr. Lev Granitsky, Cand. Sc. (Phys. & Math.). On a personal order from Shumilin he was rushed to his brainchild without going through any airport formalities (which would have taken from two to three days).
The scientist heard eyewitness accounts of the staff who had been on the scene, measured the distance of the telescope displacement, calculated the rate of displacement and then withdrew to his office... Half an hour later he joined us with a program of additional tests of the telescope. When it was completed, the UVT was again in perfect working order.
And the Defense Minister failed to keep his promise and did not appear on the scene on that particular occasion, and the telescope kept functioning in space for whole six years - a ser-
vice life tens of times longer than was expected.
At the end of 1983 I paid a visit to Academician Andrei Severny - our leading astrophysicist known to the international scientific community for his outstanding studies and discoveries on the nature of the Sun and stars. He held the post of Director of the Crimean Astrophysical Observatory and was the chief mind behind the Astron project (the research head of the project was his deputy-Corresponding Member of the USSR Academy, Alexander Boyarchuk).
And I did not have to travel to the Crimea on that occasion because my counterpart was then on a visit to Moscow. And he gave me a cordial welcome, taking upon himself all calculations, including an analysis of the Astron data. He gave a high assessment of its performance, stressing higher levels of lead and tungsten which it had registered in the atmospheres of magnetic stars - higher than in the solar atmosphere. This discovery was related to the problems of the origin and age of stars and the Universe, the formation of chemical elements and some other problems of fundamental science.
Six years later, on December 1, 1989, our second astronomical satellite - Granat was placed into a similar high-apogee orbit (it was named not after the precious stone, priceless as it really was for us all. The name was an abbreviation for the Russian description of "gamma-roentgen astrophysical research telescope"). The research head of the Project was Corresponding Member of the USSR Academy, Rashid Syunyaev, from the Institute of Space Studies of the USSR Academy. He is now full Member of the Academy and holds the post of Director of the Institute of Astrophysics of the Max Plank Society (Munich, Germany).
One can ask-why was it decided this time around to study gamma- roentgen emissions? And that was because their sources are what we call super-active objects: taking part in high-energy processes is plasma at a temperature of up to one billion (!) degrees. Related information is extremely important for our earthly high-energy physics and plasma physics.
The program of space studies also covered neutron stars (X-ray pulsars, barsters, etc.) black holes, white dwarfs, debris from supernova bursts, galaxies, nuclei of active galaxies, quasars, radiogalaxies and so on.
Granat has been one of the world's biggest research project in high-energy astrophysics. The probe carried the big Sigma Franco-Soviet X-ray telescope, other telescopes and instruments for studies of Gamma-bursts.
The fifth anniversary of the successful operation of Granat in orbit was marked by some modest celebrations at the RAS Institute of Space Studies and the Mission Control Center in Eupatoria (Crimea). The director of the Lavochkin R&D Center received a message of congratulations from Rashid Syunyaev in which the latter proudly declared that the data obtained with the help of Granat have been inscribed into the history of world astrophysics. It said: "The pride of our project are: the discovery of emission in the annihilation line of positrons in the spectra of two "candidates" to black holes and a pulsar in the Crab nebula; the discovery of quasi-periodic pulsations of X-ray fluxes from "black holes" candidates; the drafting of unique maps of the central region of our Galaxy in X-and Gamma rays; the discovery in our Galaxy of the first source of directional emissions, whose visible velocity exceeds the speed of light... Granat has been "keeping an eye" on the activities of our Sun and it registered the synthesis of deuterium in nuclear reactions upon its surface during some of the brightest solar flares..."
...On the last day of August, 2000 I paid a visit to the chief designer of the Speeds family. Prof. Vladimir Babyshkin - one of the leading brains behind the Astron telescope and its carrier, the Granat satellite, and a host of other space probes produced by our Center. And my eye was caught by a photo on his desk, on which the host stood with a bouquet of flowers in his hands next to the smiling Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov.
And seeing an expression of surprise on my face, the host explained that a couple of months before he had received a State Prize for Granat at an official White House (Bely Dom) ceremony in Moscow.
"Modesty is really the best policy" - thought I. In former times they used to put on display at the main entrance a whole list of staff who were honoured with government awards. And now such things are a private matter. And I asked my host who else had been honoured together with him. He mentioned Dr. Yuri Glinkin awarded (posthumously) for work on satellite orientation systems, and Ivan Tserenin - Deputy Director of the project. The list of honours among the staff of the RAS Institute of Space Research included its Deputy Director, Rashid Syunyaev, State Commission Chairman, Gennady Tamkovich, Technical Director, of the research complex, Boris No-vikov and deputy scientific head of the project Oleg Terekhov, Dr. Sc. (Phys. & Math.). Awarded at the Russian Scientific Research Institute of Space Instruments was the Technical Director of the radiocomplex, Valery Kustodiev. In this way the Government honoured the authors of the truly impressive discoveries, made with the help of Granat, which have put our science in the forefront of international recognition.
And one can add to that that over the past few years the same experts and engineers have been actively involved in work on the Spectr satellites equipped with new ultraviolet and X-ray telescopes and radiotelescopes designed to pick up radio emissions from space in the centimeter band. The importance of setting up such big astrophysical observatories in orbit was stressed in the section on "Fundamental Space Studies" of the current "Federal Space Program of Russia" on space systems, complexes and equipment for research and economic applications. And this area of research is vigorously supported by the Russian Aerospace Agency and the Russian Academy of Sciences.
The most advanced in this series is the Spectr-RG probe for comprehensive studies of space sources not only in the Gamma and X-ray spectra, but also in the remote ultraviolet range. The probe will carry five telescopes: one is a combined product of Russia, Denmark and Germany and the rest belonging to Italy, Germany, Israel and the United States. Our foreign counterparts have already invested into the project some 280 mln dollars.
About half a year ago there was a trade union conference at our Center. Addressing the meeting our General Designer and Director General, Stanislav Kulikov, had this to say about the Spectr- RG project: "\^ are practically through with the experimental work and what remains to be done are the static and heat tests of the instrument module. The main task before us is putting into proper shape the electroradiotechnical gear. And then we shall have to complete our "flying product" and make it ready for launch in late 2003. We have asked our foreign colleagues, engaged in the project, for support to the tune of 20 mln dollars. And they set up what we call a scientific and technical commissions. After detailed studies, they announced their verdict: the proposed set of instruments is unique. And the latter, after a visit to our center, came to the conclusion that the space probe has been designed at the highest level of perfection. This was followed by a meeting in Paris of the parties involved on the project in which I also took part. The meeting endorsed the idea of providing financial support to our Center. Unfortunately, this has not yet been put into practice. But we do not give up hope."
Permanent link to this publication:
LUnited States LWorld Y G