Russia loses control of only space telescope

©Agence France-Presse

The telescope incident came after a Russian Soyuz rocket failed last October shortly after takeover

Moscow (AFP) - Russia has lost control of its only space radio telescope but officials are working to re-establish communication, the country's beleaguered space agency said Monday.

The incident is the latest setback for Russia's debt-laden space industry, which in recent years has suffered the loss of spacecraft, satellites, and a failed manned launch. 

Roscosmos said a US observatory detected signals from Russia's gigantic Spektr-R, or RadioAstron, telescope, which stopped responding to commands from Earth last Thursday.

Roscosmos said that meant the onboard systems were working independently.

The Spektr-R telescope was launched into orbit in 2011 to study black holes, neutron stars and Earth's magnetic field, among other subjects.

Complete with ground-based observatories and a 10-meter-long antenna, RadioAstron is one of the largest telescopes ever made.

A new attempt to regain control of the telescope will take place from 1600 GMT Monday, the space agency said in a statement. 

Previous attempts to get in touch with the telescope were unsuccessful.

Yuri Kovalev, head of the RadioAstron project, refused to say the country had lost the spacecraft for good.

"I cannot bury a satellite which is alive for sure," Kovalev told AFP in written comments.

"It's like asking for a comment about a sick person when doctors are fighting for his life," said Kovalev, a physicist with the Lebedev Physical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow.

This year Russia is planning to launch another telescope, the Spektr-RG, whose task will be to put together a "complete map of the Universe," the space agency has said.

The Spektr-R telescope was only supposed to serve through 2014 but its lifespan has been extended.

Some experts say the Spektr-R telescope was one of Russia's few successful space projects.

Last October a Soyuz rocket carrying Russia's Aleksey Ovchinin and US astronaut Nick Hague failed just minutes after blast-off, forcing the pair to make an emergency landing.