Russia threatens to hijack German space telescope

A view of the eROSITA X-ray telescope before final packaging in its carbon fiber structure.

A view of the eROSITA X-ray telescope before final packaging in its carbon fiber structure.
Photo: MPE

The Russian space agency has announced plans to unilaterally take control of a German telescope mounted on a Russian-built spacecraft. It’s a terrible, irresponsible idea, like even Russian scientists will admit.

The German developer of the eROSITA telescope, the Max Planck Institute, has put the instrument into standby last February to protest Russia’s unwarranted and continued invasion of Ukraine. The X-ray telescope is the main instrument aboard the joint Russian-German Spektr-RG mission, which the Russian space agency Roscosmos launched into space in July 2019. The Russian X-ray telescope ART-XC is also attached to the spacecraft, and it works in tandem with eROSITA.

It now appears, however, that Russia will reactivate eROSITA without the explicit consent of the Max Planck Institute, as reported at Deutsche Welle. Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin, a strong supporter of Putin and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, made his intentions clear in a recent TV interview.

“I gave instructions to start work on restoring the functioning of the German telescope in the Spektr-RG system to work with the Russian telescope,” Rogozin said. “Despite Germany’s request to close one of Spektr-RG’s two telescopes, Russian specialists insist on continuing its work. Roscosmos will make relevant decisions in the near future.

To which he added: “They – the people who made the decision to shut down the telescope – do not have the moral right to stop this research for humanity just because their pro-fascist views are close to our enemies. .”

Spektr-RG is currently in halo orbit some 932,000 miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth. The science phase of the 7.5-year collaborative mission began in October 2019. The eROSITA telescope is in the midst of a an all-sky survey, in which it scans the universe in the mid-X-ray range “with unprecedented spectral and angular resolution”, according at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics. The device consists of seven identical mirror modules, each containing 54 interlocking mirror shells that enable the high sensitivity of the telescope.

Scientists from the eROSITA project use the telescope to map the large-scale structure of the universe, to detect obscured black holes in nearby galaxies, and to study the physics of X-ray sources, such as young stars, the remnants of supernova and X-ray binaries.

Lev Zeleny, scientific director of the Institute for Space Research of the Russian Academy of Sciences, spoke out against the decision to turn on eROSITA again saying: “Our institute – all scientists – strongly oppose this proposal”, because it was cited by the Russian Gazeta. The objection, Zeleny said, “is for both political and technical reasons,” saying it’s unclear whether Russian astronomers will actually figure out how to use eROSITA, or whether outside journals will continue to publish the results. scientists who could come from the movement. .

The scientific supervisor of the Spektr-RG project, Rashid Sunyaev, fears that Russian astronomers could accidentally damage the German telescope, because reported in Interfax, a private Russian media. “It’s a wonderful, absolutely world-class device that has delivered a lot of data already,” Sunyaev said. “We all dream of seeing him return to active work. But it’s an incredibly complex device, and if we decide to ignore agreements with our partners and blame ourselves, it can just ruin it,” Sunyaev said.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has been damaging on many levels, including science. It will likely take years, if not decades, for these broken relationships to mend. Rogozin’s decision to space-Jack a telescope would do do only a bad situation worse. He better think twice.

After: NASA astronaut Scott Kelly in Russia: ‘Your space program won’t be worth much’.

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