Russia Trying to Hijack German Telescope

After being banned from involvement in a cooperative X-ray telescope project with Germany in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, Russia is now seeking to operate the telescope without Germany's input.

The Spektrum-Röntgen-Gamma (SRG) space observatory launched in 2019 is an X-ray telescope designed to observe far-off galaxies and supermassive black holes. Russian space agency Roscosmos partnered with DLR, the German space agency, on the project, with Roscosmos building and launching the spacecraft, and DLR and Germany's Max Planck Institute designing the eROSITA primary observational instrument.

The SRG/eROSITA had completed four of its intended eight all-sky survey passes by late February this year. However, two days after Russia invaded Ukraine, DLR decided to place the eROSITA into sleep mode, with "all science operations with the instrument currently paused." Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was unhappy with this move and has given orders to restore operations of the telescope without Germany's permission.

proton launcer
It's feared that Russia is attempting to use Germany's Spektrum-Röntgen-Gamma (SRG) telescope without the country's permission. Above, a pro­ton launch­er is shown car­ry­ing SRG and eROSI­TA. MPE/Vadim Burwitz, DLR

Sources told Ars Technica that Rogozin has done this to gain Putin's approval.

In an interview on Russian TV, Rogozin said, according to Deutsche Welle: "Despite Germany's demand to shut down one of the two telescopes at Spektr-RG, Russian specialists insist on continuing its work. Roscosmos will make relevant decisions in the near future."

He added that the people that made the decision to shut down the telescope "don't have a moral right to halt this research for humankind just because their pro-fascist views are close to our enemies."

However, not everyone involved in the Russian side of the project agrees with Rogozin's actions, according to Deutsche Welle, because if Roscosmos succeeds at hijacking the telescope, they might end up damaging the delicate devices inside.

Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin is reportedly attempting to seek the approval of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Shown above is the SRG eROSITA mirror module. P. Friedrich/MPE, DLR

Rashid Sunyaev, the scientific director of the SRG project has said that attempts to restart the telescope without German cooperation could be detrimental to the device itself, and that recommissioning could take place only with Germany's consent, or else the telescope would be in danger of breaking down.

The scientific director of the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Science, Lev Zeleny said, according to Russian news site Gazeta.Ru: "Our institute—all scientists—strongly object to this proposal."

"This is not a Russian device, I don't presume to judge how realistic this whole epic (with inclusion) is, I don't know if our specialists have processing codes. But even if they do, it will be simply impossible to publish these data—they will not be accepted, not a single magazine will do the right thing."