of the XXVII RadioAstron Meeting

by Glen Langston

Dr. Kardashev organized RadioAstron (RA) satellite meetings in Moscow for 2002 Sept 25 to 27. The meetings were at 3 locations, the Lavochkin Association, in northern Moscow, the Astro Space Center, near Kaluzhskaya metro station in southern Moscow, and the Russian Space Agency headquarters building in central Moscow, near Prospect Mira station.


The renewed vigor of Russian work on RA was stated many times. They have started working on all aspects of the mission and had some planning documents that began to give insight into the project time-line. The main products of the last year seems to be these planning documents and some testing that has occurred in the science data package. The foreign partners would have liked to have seen more test data and hardware showing progress.

The Russian effort appears to be ramping up and the foreigners ramping down. The Russian goal of the meeting was to re-invigorate the foreign contribution. The foreign goal was to get documents from the Russians that would provide credibility in requesting further RA funding support.

The Russians now need some assurances of ground antenna and tracking support, plus some mechanism of re-certifying the foreign built receivers. This hardware has expired so new documentation is required. The primary science receiver, at 22 GHz, will be rebuilt and should be OK. The other receivers will need to be re-certified at a lower reliability (like 93% instead of 98%). The foreign contributers should work to get paperwork to clear this detail, but have not yet done so.

The NRAO should plan tracking support to keep the project on track, yet be done at minimum cost. The NRAO should wait before mounting a major effort, but must provide a minimum of test support, so that new Russian developments will remain compatible with current station design. Already interface changes are underway in Russia (such as uplink frequency etc).

It appears that the economy of Russia continues to improve; the highways seem better, the buildings seem further repaired and the Russians, in general, seem to be fairly happy. The first major change noticed was pedestrian over-passes on the main ring highway surrounding Moscow. This allows the shoppers to the many home improvement malls (ie IKEA) to get their purchases home more safely.

Below is a presentation summary given in chronological order.

Lavochkin Association on 2002 Sept 25

On Sept 25 the meetings were held at the Lavochkin Association, where the satellite is assembled. Dr. Kulikov, head of Lavochkin, presented an introduction, noting the priority of RadioAstron (RA) has increased, and that the satellite will be launched in the first quarter of 2006. He needs to organize the ground facilities, and put together a detailed test plan. This includes developing of data interchange plans for the ground antennas, tracking stations and correlators. He considers that they have begun development of all components, including software. Some organizational changes were made to achieve these goals.

The first presentation was by Babyshkin, the designer of the project, who presented the status of the Agenda and detailed schedule. The space craft bus is well developed for the RadioAstron project.

Apogee has been changed to 340,000 km and perigee is 500 km Ground scientific control system work will start in 2003 Q1. Mass has decreased from 6000 kg to 5222 kg. Orbit period 9.5 days. The launch vehicle is a Proton rocket. The Lavochkin association is the prime contractor for the control station. The science data sub-system, VIRK, is a major addition to the bus structure, compared to the Spectrum X-Gamma satellite.

Since the changing of priority, they have started to think more fully about completing the project. They have made some design changes and are including these design changes in the documentation. They have chosen to launch on 2006 March 15.

The satellite command antenna sites are Evpatoria and Bear Lake. The baseline mission calls for 3 science data tracking sites, Pushchino Russia, Green Bank and Tidbinbilla, Australia.

Time-Line: N.G. Babakin
At the end of 2003, the space payload must be delivered to Lavochkin Association. In 2003, summer, the antenna, including the VIRK will be be transported to Pushchino for testing. Engineering model will be kept for diagnosis of in-flight problems.

Flight Control-K.G.Shukhanov
Must develop an overall hierarchy for planning of science experiments General Operations Control Group, which be located at Lavochkin Association. Science tracking stations (TS) called (HC-C) included Pushchino GB and the DSN stations. There is a separate HC-Y for satellite control. His model still includes JPL for orbit prediction and also International Ballistic Control (IBC) center for orbit determination.
They must determine the overall hierarchy. Lavochkin will be responsible for the operation of the spacecraft. Bear Lake is the control station site. The Pushchino tracking station is the responsibility of the Astro Space Center.

Summarizing the morning meeting by Kulikov, he states that we must now determine how the control hierarchy will be realized.

Marc Allen asked questions about NASA support requirements and stated he could make no commitments until after discussions with NASA headquarters.

Excellent lunch of Caviar, Borscht, and veal at Lavochkin.

After lunch, traveled to the Flight Control Center, which is on the Lavochkin complex. Was previously at Evpatoria, but thanks to communications improvements was moved to Moscow. Have launched 4 satellites from this location. The spectrum satellite will be controlled from this site. Will use commercial links for communications to the satellites. Has internet connection 1M-Bps next door. Video could be seen next door, where the satellite commands are generated. Have groups for satellite health analysis, satellite ballistic prediction and satellite planning.

At the meeting they showed a video of the successful launch of the Cluster satellite which was an ESA payload, launched on a Proton Rocket.

Control tracking antenna could be ready for the launch within 0.5 years of official notification. They will use the 12m antenna for control uplink at Bear Lake. It seems they will not normally need to be in contact with the satellite. They will work on 9.5 day cycles.

Concerning the satellite tracking, apogee tracking is not so important as perigee tracking.

They have dis-assembled the satellite antenna since the last meeting to correct some problems with the structure. They showed a video of the deployment of the antenna from the last meeting.

Question about the Pushchino tests. They will put the antenna in a ring support system to allow observing up to 45deg zenith angle. They also showed video of trip to Pushchino, where antenna tests will occur.

That night some foreign members attended the Moscow Circus. We were incredibly impressed by the talent of the circus performers and enjoyed every act of the show. Acts included parallel bar tango, high trapeeze, jumping acrobats, and incredible dance/quick-change act.

September 26: Astro Space Center

V.V. Andreyanov gave a quick overview of the satellite design. Expect approximately 0.3 efficiency. Noted that most of the existing science hardware have passed the expiration date. Need to provide flight models, options are to (1) build new or (2) test old and fly those. Still looking for foreign contributions. Mentioned NRAO 1.3cm LNA, but all other components must come from the original countries.
Described tests that have been performed, which includes 1) surface tests 2) zero-baseline test, simulated interferometer with noise sources 3) US tracking station interface tests 4) Pushchino tests with RA as a radio test. 5) Pushchino tests with 22m as interferometer 6) Satellite tests in Lavochkin Made a request for Goldstone tracking station equipment that has been retired. Also asked how JPL part of the former plan will be replaced.

Kardashev - Orbit
Orbit will change over three year life of the mission, but it can be calculated before launch. He finds that there are directions that have low enough resolution to allow imaging more frequently than with a lower orbit.
Had long list of object types for observations. Includes pulsars, micro-quasars, masers, and AGN. Notes that some times even resolved sources have compact un-resolved components.
Question about pointing. Appears that 10 pointings can be commanded before contact is required to the command antenna. The time to command is about 1 hour. Seemed to be somewhat optimistic about number of sources that could be observed.

Korneev - 1.3 cm Receiver
Have a selected number of frequencies that can be observed in the band, due to the LO constraints. (That must be a multiple of 32). New receiver will have a very wide bandwidth capabilities. For Pushchino tests, the original Finish receiver will be used. Vasilkov presented the NRAO LNA spec. Expecting 30K system temp at 80K ambient temp. 2 NRAO LNAs will be transfered to ASC, and 4 more expected. The polarizer should work over 18 to 26 GHz, with 0.5 dB loss. Feed and polarizer will have a physical temp of 125K.

Ed Fomalhaut - GRTs
Suggested two classes of experiments. Type 1: Perigee, imaging experiments with 3 tracking stations (TS). Type 2: Apogee, detection with modeling capability with 1 TS. Should achieve 10 micro-arcsecond.

Phil Diamond - EVN
The EVN is the most sensitive VLBI array. Frequencies UHF, 1.2-1.7, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 22 GHz. There have been many antenna upgrades. A Spanish 40m and Sardinia 64m will be available by launch. Will have fiber link to Jive. VLBA does not have the full 22 GHz band.

Dave Jauncey - CSIRO
Only AT compact array is capable of 22 GHz.

Hirax - Japan
Vera hardware is complete. Shares 22 GHz with RA. Usuda Kashima and Nobeyama. VSOP-2 will have 8, 22 and 43 GHz, and 2009/10 launch.

Ye. Z. Qian - China
Shanghai and xx 25m are part of EVN. Potentially Miyun Beijing 50m antenna by 2005 and 500m by 2008. Showed a map of China that included Taiwan.

Dageksamanski - Russia
Many good antennas, but 64m has only 5% efficiency at 22 GHz.

Ukraine - Lytvinenko
A 70m is available, and a tracking station could be outfitted.

Langston - GB station
Gave a quick summary of status as moth-balled and testing steps needed to be executed soon.

Marc Allen - NASA stations
They are still learning about the project and will have a better answer on support in the following months. JPL may be a part of the RadioAstron project in the future and that Orbit determination could be a standard part of the JPL activity.

Running out of time before lunch. So correlators section was short. VLBA and Penticton correlators should work with RA. EVN Correlator at Jive is not yet space VLBI ready, but does have 16 station capability. Jive is supporting PC-EVN disk based system. Will be phasing out tape in the near future. e-Vlbi, e-Merlin and e-Evn. Expect that in 2006, there will be PC-EVN and MK-V with 1 G-Bps. Not yet committed to SVLBI.

Likhachev - RA correlator
They have performed S2 tests with a software correlator. Also have built a PC disk based data recorder. He is also considering some issues of image production and observations of multi-frequency synthesis.

Nice Lunch at ASC. The ASC lunch room has been privatized. The food was good, the music contemporary, and the TV a little distracting. Excellent coffee.

Sheikhet - High Apogee Orbit
Orbit Determination seems to be considered more fully. They considered case of shadowing on the satellite. The downlink antenna drive motor limits closest position to the tracking station to be 5000 km. The moon shadow for long duration lasts 12 hours, and occurs once a year.

Misha Popov - Sky coverage and observing
Presented a very good, detailed model of the ground station requirements for satellite tracking. Showed that 3 tracking stations are required to get all of orbit. With Pushchino and GB get about 75% of downlink. He also ran of FAKESAT (Dave Murphy) executions to show annual variation in the uv coverage with time. The satellite constraints are discussed for the first time; observations must be > 90 degrees from the Sun. Showed a series of UV coverage for one source, recalculating every quarter. Each source could be well observed during two epochs each year. Guessed the good observing window was about 1 month in duration (three orbits).

Ken - Pre-launch surveys
Because so many sources are highly variable, a survey in the near term would not indicate which sources will have compact components at the time of RadioAstron. Claimed that NASA MAP satellite will discover all sources at 22 GHz brighter than 100mJy by finding all 90GHz sources brighter than 3 Jy. Assuming they are optically thick: S(\nu) \propto \nu^{2.5}.

Hirax - VSOP results
Summarize science results of VSOP. VSOP is the project name and HALCA is the satellite name. Remembered that testing of tracking occurred 3 years before launch. They did not have correlator budgeted but were able to find funds for it. Mitsubishi was the antenna manufacturer. Observations continue and may continue through 2006. According to Hirax, they only had 3 permanent staff for satellite.

Science with VSOP
D.Jauncey, N.Bartel, P.Diamond and W. Baan presented scientific programs that would be carried out with RA.

NRAO Interface and Demodulator Questions
Both Larry D'Addario and I missed the science presentations, because of a meeting with members of the ASC tracking station group. They had two points:
1) they desire to change the up-link frequency slightly, from 7215 MHz to 7205 MHz, and also change the transponder multiplier factor so the downlink frequency is 8400 MHz. (instead of 8472 MHz).
2) tests of data from the VIRK and modulator to demodulator and NRAO decoder that shows time in-stabilities. We spent a hour discussing their tests and the configuration of the decoder. The tests yield good results when the decoder is in its internal test mode, but not with data from the VIRK. The measurements of the difference between satellite 1 Hz and ground 1Hz show some short period noise (t < 60s) and long duration jumps (t > 1000s) where the time offset jumps by a few micro seconds to a more or less fixed value. The jump is then to the next value.

Excellent Banquet at the Restaurant Angleterr in Moscow. Plenty of toasts and announcement that Ken Kellermann was elected as a Foreign Member of the Russian Academy of Science. After great dinner and dancing, had a midnight sight seeing tour of Moscow.

Meeting at Russian Agency on Aviation and Cosmonautics (RAKA) on 2002 Sept 27

Polishuk hosted the meeting and by way of introduction stated the Russian Academy of Science has decided to make RadioAstron a priority project. There would be a lack of international space radio astronomy data, so will launch in the period 2005-2007. They asked for the status of the 7 countries represented. Last week they completed the master schedule and want to know how the foreign schedule will mesh. They want to make sure that the budget of RadioAstron is in the Russian and foreign plans for the next year. They will start construction of launch vehicle.

Kulikov summarized the previous meeting at Lavochkin. He was interested in how to organize the ground infrastructure. They are able to overcome all the technical problems of the spacecraft but is interested in how to better organize the ground support. Ground support has two components: control and data acquisition. They need to start work on making an agreement between RAKA and NASA. This agreement must be specific on how the work will be done. After a major agreement, then they must develop a set of smaller agreements and document the data exchange between the sides.

Kardashev summarized that there is a close relationship between the satellite and the tracking station and the ground antennas. It is very important to agree on how to organize our work and distribute the work. We must think clearly on how the spacecraft will be supported for around the clock observations. At the same time we must plan on the support of the ground radio telescopes. We must make certain that the observatories have it in their plan to take part in the satellite observations.

Another important question is to have testing of the system and they have a serious problem with pieces of hardware that may have expired. They have solved the problem of the 1.3 cm receiver, which will been built in Russia. Once again he wanted to emphasize the importance of reliability.

Ken Kellermann reminded us that they first heard about RadioAstron at a meeting in Vienna in 1984. A lot of progress has been made since that time as the EVN, VLBA and Chinese instruments have be built. These antennas have the highest resolution and also the VSOP project has shown that the space VLBI is possible. Radioastron will go to longer baselines and higher frequencies, improving resolution by an order of magnitude. So we are very excited about these opportunities, but also have many concerns. Particularly the hardware that has reached the end of its lifetime and the de-commissioned tracking stations. The support of the other space station is questionable. It is important for both sides to keep working diligently to keep on schedule.

Ken pointed out the RadioAstron project is complex and requires that all components be connected in series, so that all parts must work or nothing works.

Polishuk responded that he has a document describing the work breakdown and will pass it on to NASA in the near future.

D.Jauncey responded that he could not get support to replace the Australian receiver, with the history of delays. They believe that with close work together in small steps to achieve their goals.

Willem Baan said ASTRON is hopeful and has students that are looking forward to RadioAstron. RadioAstron had disappeared from their mind. Now they must re-think their priorities. They must go back to their agencies and argue for support. This support is dependent on openness and enthusiasm for the project in Russia. Only then will they be able to convince their agencies of the value of supporting the work. He hopes that in a very short time scale to organize the work.

Polishuk responded that he will inform the other agencies of their intentions to support RA in the bilateral agency meetings. They will meet with ESA and NASA at the end of the month. They will find a way of communicating to Australia and Canada. They are fully funding space science. They are now paying for the Proton for integral, and will finish paying in the next year. The following year they will begin obtaining funding for the RadioAstron launch.

The Ukrainian colleague noted they are providing a radio telescope and tracking antenna possibly.

Finland has contributed the same amount of money to RadioAstron and Spectrum X, plus they are interested in Spec UV. He is personally happy about this decision. Unfortunately at the moment there are no possibilities of raising more money to support RadioAstron, but will provide ground antenna support.

Polishuk said they also have disagreements within Russia since they once had X, R and UV, but now only have R, as the UV telescope may become a part of a UN project.

Hirax mentioned that the VSOP was quickly able to get international support. And they have a different culture and maybe Russia may have a culture between Europe and japan. Hirax mentioned that their is international interest in VLBI as Japan has VSOP-II and US has Arise and I-Arise. Another example of collaboration is the TDRS which also was international.

Polishuk responded that the VLBI experiments compliment each other and we should work on areas that are not covered.

China responded they are very young in space science and would work hard in Astronomy to develop their abilities.

Marc Allen responded that high orbit has implications for US support. They will look at the capabilities of the old tracking stations and the JPL orbit determination group. He emphasized the importance of the schedule and the 2006 launch. And thanked them for running a very productive meeting.

After the meeting there was some discussion on the state of the receivers. It seems that the foreign partners do not know the state of the receivers and what it would take to get them back in working order. There may not be much work, but there was a complaint that there was not much insight into the state of the equipment.

Working Group Planning at ASC

After lunch, Kardashev started with the RISC membership. They will write the institutes asking for one or two members. After getting the list of members they will also add some at large members. The RISC will be a part of the steering committee for the mission. Will write up the mandate of the RISC, circulate to current RISC, then send mandate with request for membership.

Expiration of hardware. Willem Baan wanted an update of Rcvr status, and Phil Diamond asked if the tests could be run by the ASC on the receivers. Andreyanov responded that they could not formally test the receivers. There needs to be an analysis of the components and what should be re-tested in a re-qualified module. The foreign providers wanted the state of the flight hardware verified. The answer was that it was already tested and should be OK, since the engineering model was fine. One question was where the test procedures are for these components. The Russians requested the foreign partners to get the to make some first estimate of the component lifetimes from engineers in their organization.

The providers feel they can not make any more effort until there is some more proof of progress on the part of RA. An engineer from ASC discussed the problem, who noted three copies were tested at arrival. There is no more need for tests as there were no failures, except for 3. There was (1) a noise source failure, (2) an oscillation of the IF amp chip and (3) some failure with Rubidium oscillator. His feeling was probably that the receivers should just fly as they are.

However Andreyanov was not authorized to allow flight of modules that have expired. The Lavochkin association would not allow these expired components to fly, due to the high cost of the mission. They tried to find some compromise where the 22GHz receiver would be considered the prime instrument, which is new and would have the lifetime required for the mission.

Working Groups

The action items were for the working group co-chairs to clarify their working area (ie division between tracking input and orbit determination output) and to find group members that could help with these efforts.

Proposal for working group co-chairs was as follows:
1) Science payload - Andreyanov, D'Addario
2) Telemetry Stations - Boris Kanevski, Langston
3) Operations - Popov, Fomalont
4) Orbit Determination - Yurii Ponomarev + NASA headquarters
5) Correlators, Data processing - Likhachev, Romney
6) Science Program - Kardashev, Kellermann

There was a good bit of discussion about the amount of information to be passed between the organizations. At first it was suggested by the Europeans that a summary of budget and manpower should be reported. This caused a great bit of heated discussion. Eventually it was recommended that a serious time-line and set of milestones be presented. These milestones would have dates associated and some sort of quarterly status summary would be presented to the associates of the project. This seemed to be a reasonable compromise.

The deadline for the working groups would be October 15 to find the group members. By November 15, the ASC would have a list of tasks that could be targets and time line for achieving these targets. By December 15, NASA will have a response on the availability of support. The EVN and other VLBI networks will respond to RA request for support commitments.

Note from Larry D'Addario

There was a separate meeting with between the NASA team, some members of the RA project, and Larry D'Addario. Larry D'Addario noted that there were Gantt charts and milestones that RA project did present. These charts were on viewgraphs and most people did not get copies. Nevertheless, Larry got a copy and so did some of the NASA team. The NASA team also received a large-size copy in Russian with signatures by high level folks showing that it's officially approved. The indications are that the documents counts as "a serious time line and set of milestones", and there is a good probability the RA project will act upon it in a timely manner.

back to top
back to RadioAstron home page