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Russia plans to restart German telescope unilaterally

June 4, 2022

Russian space agency Roscosmos says it will restart a telescope shut down by Germany over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. But a noted expert has warned that this might be dangerous to the instrument.

The X-ray telescope eROSITA
The eROSITA telescope works together with a Russian one to send data from spaceImage: Peter Friedrich/dpa/MPE/picture alliance

Russia will try to unilaterally restart a German satellite telescope that was put into sleep mode by Germany's Max Planck Institute in protest at Moscow's war in Ukraine, the head of Russian space agency Roscosmos said in remarks broadcast on Saturday.

The X-ray telescope, named eROSITA, works in tandem with a Russian instrument, the ART-XC, to scan distant galaxies in what was a joint German-Russian mission until Germany put its cooperation on ice over Russia's invasion.

What did Roskosmos' head say?

"I gave instructions to start work on restoring the operation of the German telescope in the Spektr-RG system so it works together with the Russian telescope," Roskosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin said in a televised interview.

"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," Rogozin said.

"They — 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," added Rogozin, who is a Putin loyalist and a vocal supporter of Moscow's military action.

Russian Proton-M booster blasting off with the Spektr-RG space observatory
The telescope was launched into space from the Baikonur launch site in July 2019Image: Reuters/Handout Roscosmos

Expert's warning

However, the scientific director of the Spekr-RG project said that attempts to restart the telescope without German cooperation could be detrimental to the device itself.

The recommissioning could take place only with Germany's consent; otherwise, the telescope would be in danger of breaking down, said Russian astrophysicist Rashid Sunyaev.

The Russian Interfax news agency also cited him as saying that "unilateral action in this situation only adds more mistrust between people."

Looking for Dark Energy

What is eROSITA?

The eROSITA telescope was launched by Roscosmos on July 13, 2019, from the Russian launch site Baikonur in Kazakhstan. It began collecting data in October 2019. 

The Spektr-RG mission on which it is deployed along with the Russian telescope aims, among other things, to detect black holes.

Until eROSITA was put into sleep mode on February 26, two days after Russia started its invasion,  Russian and German researchers had been able to jointly evaluate the data sent by the two devices.

 At the time it was shut down, eROSITA had completed four of its planned eight full-sky surveys. Data from the first four are still being evaluated by scientists.

tj/dj (dpa, Interfax)