The eROSITA telescope is part of a joint Russian-German project to map the Universe. However, Germany suspended the mission after the invasion of Ukraine. The Roscosmos space agency has therefore announced its intention to unilaterally take control of this structure mounted on a Russian-built vessel.
The Spektr-RG Spektrum-Röntgen-Gamma mission is one of the most important space projects proposed by Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union. Launched in 2019 on a Proton rocket, this X-ray observatory flies in a halo orbit about 1.5 million km from Earth. His job is to detect and map clusters of galaxies and other supermassive black holes.
For this project, the Russian space company Roscosmos has partnered with the German space agency, DLR. As part of the collaboration, Russia took care of the Spektr-RG spacecraft while the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, based in Germany, took care of a telescope named eROSITA. A Russian ART-XC X-ray telescope is also attached to the spacecraft. It works in tandem with eROSITA.
Yet another mission victim of war
The mission seemed to be going as planned since 2019. Eventually, the war in Ukraine turned everything upside down. The German developer of the eROSITA telescope indeed put the instrument into standby mode last February to protest against the Russian invasion, aligning itself with the rest of the Western world. However, Roscosmos boss Dmitry Rogozin said it was time to reactivate the telescope. A fervent supporter of Putin and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the latter has indeed clearly expressed his intentions during a recent television interview.
“I gave instructions to start working on restoring the functioning of the German telescope in the Spektr-RG system so that it works with the Russian telescope,” he said. “Russian specialists insist on continuing his work. Roscosmos will make relevant decisions in the near future.” He then added, “They, the people who made the decision to shut down the telescope, have no moral right to stop this research for humanity just because their pro-fascist views are close to our enemies.” .
A technical risk
German officials meanwhile said restarting the scientific instrument without their cooperation could damage the telescope. The Russian scientific supervisor of the Spektr-RG project, Rashid Sunyaev, agrees. “It’s a wonderful, world-class device that has delivered a lot of data already,” he said. “We all dream of seeing him return to work. Nonetheless, it’s a surprisingly complex device, and if we decide to ignore agreements with partners and turn it against ourselves, it can just ruin it.”
Lev Zeleny, scientific director of the Institute for Space Research of the Russian Academy of Sciences, also spoke out against the decision to reactivate eROSITA for both political and technical reasons. He also fears that outside journals will no longer agree to publish future scientific results.