On 18 July 2011, just after 2:30 UT, the Russian Astro Space Centre launched the Spektr-R space radio telescope into orbit. Spektr-R, formerly known as RadioAstron, is part of a larger project using the orbital platform as one element in a VLBI (Very Long Baseline Interferometry) array. When used in conjunction with ground-based radio telescopes, it will produce images in the radio spectrum with a resolution significantly higher than that of the Hubble Space Telescope.
Originally part of the Soviet space program, RadioAstron was intended to launch back in 1991. The collapse of the Soviet Union led to the project being delayed until now, twenty years later, when the engineers and scientists behind it are finally seeing their work come to fruition.
Spektr-R has an aperture of 10 meters — not very large, as radio telescopes go, but more than adequate for the task. It’s receivers, operating in bandwidths ranging from 1.35cm to 95cm, were supplied by a number of different countries, giving the project a more international flavour than what the soviet state must have originally been envisioned. It operats in a highly ellpitical orbit, swooping out almost as far away as the Moon with an apogee of 340,000 km and back down again to a perigee of only 1000km above the Earth. The Spektr-R mission is intended to last five years.