RUSSIA LOSES CONTROL OF THE “RUSSIAN HUBBLE” TELESCOPE

January 17, 2019 By Joseph P. Farrell

Speaking of Russia, you may or may not be aware that it has its own version of the problem-plagued "Hubble telescope" called the Spektr-R satellite, over which it has recently lost control, according to this article shared by Mr. G.C.:

Russia loses control over its ONLY ‘Hubble-like’ telescope, but photos are still coming

This article grabbed my attention, not so much for what the article says, but because of the speculation that Mr. G.C. offered in conjunction with it when he shared this story, and that speculation made me sit up and take notice. According to the article, the Russian space agency Roscosmos has lost the ability to control its satellite telescope, which nevertheless continues to send back pictures:

Russia has lost control over its scientific space satellite, Spektr-R, which has one of the largest space telescopes ever sent into orbit. Ground control said it is “still alive,” however, and continues to send photos from space.

It’s been several days since Spektr-R, also known as RadioAstron, stopped responding to commands from the ground in the middle of its space flight, Russian scientists said. Last Thursday, communication between mission control and the space telescope failed, and several other attempts to revive the radio link have proven unsuccessful.

Incredibly, the Spektr-R kept sending data back to Earth, however, which added a bit of intrigue to the incident. “There is still hope – the satellite is indeed alive,” Yuri Kovalev, head of RadioAstron program, wrote on Facebook.

Dubbed the 'Russian Hubble' by the media, Spektr-R is part of a small club of scientific instruments that enjoy the luxury of observing deep space without the interference of the Earth’s atmosphere. Unlike its predecessor from the 90s, however, the Russian telescope detects radio frequencies, not visible light. While its output may not be immediately stunning to the public, it is crucial for cutting-edge scientific discoveries, enabling researchers to study objects not visible or as clear to the 'naked eye,' such as black holes, neutron stars, pulsars and astrophysical masers. Spektr-R excelled at such observations, breaking several records in angular resolution during its mission. (Emphasis added)

Astrophysical masers? Now, I'm not an astrophysicist, but I imagine that there can be certain kinds of natural phenomena that could be considered "astrophysical masers." (Masers are like lasers, but they operate in the radar and microwave end of the spectrum). But, of course, the language could also cover the possibility that "someone out there" is "building masers", for typically, masers are constructed things.  If one wants to let the imagination run wild, one could even envision using an entire star's microwave emissions as the pumping source for the optical cavity of a large artificial maser. That would, of course, be a very large, and deadly, microwave oven. But hey, it would be useful for starting large fires in places where you need to pick up real estate on the cheap. But all that's a digression from my main concern and high octane speculation of the day.

There have been a host of problems surrounding these space-based telescopes, and America's Hubble has been no exception. But Mr. G.C. speculates that behind the language of "we simply lost control" that seems to accompany these incidents, that something else may be going on, that "control" is being lost because someone is interfering with these telescopes, and literally wresting control away from the owners of the satellites, in this case, Russia. After all, cyber systems are notoriously insecure, and one presumes that if hackers can hack into major banks, Sony, the Federal Reserve, and all the other hacking stories we've seen lately, that one could also hack into satellite networks. If so, that raises the stakes considerably, for it would imply that "someone" does not want those satellite telescopes to remain under the control of the nations that launch them. And to extend this high octane speculation a bit, it would make sense: let those nations (and their taxpayers) pay for sophisticated satellite telescopes, and then literally steal them. And of course, there's another implication, for if one did successfully wrest control away from the nations putting them up there, then presumably one could also control what information those nations are allowed to see from there satellites.

If all that sounds wild and woolly, that's because it is. But I cannot help but think of that episode a few years ago when a Russian and an American satellite in orbit collided with each other, with both nations denying they had any responsibility for the incident. Now, of course, one or the other, or both, could be lying. But then again, they could be telling the truth. And that would mean that someone else took control of them, and collided them... a kind of "demonstration of capability." If so, then that would mean there are other players, and they may not be the usual suspects (China, India, Japan, France, Germany &c), but perhaps extra-territorial actors, or even "someone else."

See you on the flip side...