War in Ukraine | Conflict echoes in the room

A German telescope installed on a Russian satellite is in demand. The great head of the Russian space agency has in fact threatened to take control of the instrument, put on standby for three months, due to the invasion of Ukraine. A first in space law.

Posted at 7:00

Mathieu Perreault

Mathieu Perreault
The press

The threat

“I gave the instruction to restore the operation of the German telescope in the Spektr-RG satellite,” said the head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin. “The people who decided to turn off the telescope have no moral right to stop this important research for humanity because their pro-fascist vision is close to our enemies.”

picture taken from roscosmos website

Artist impression of the Spektr-RG satellite

This belligerent statement made on Russian television, and reported by the German radio Deutsche Welle, was mitigated by the lack of cooperation from the Russian Academy of Sciences. One of its officials told the Russian agency Gazeta that it was not desirable to relaunch the German eROSITA telescope. Mr. Rogozin refuted that Roscosmos technicians were ready to carry out the work without the cooperation of Russian astrophysicists.


photo taken from the Max Planck Institute’s website

Peter Predehl of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics is the lead researcher for the eROSITA telescope.

the eROSITA telescope “could be destroyed” if revived without collaboration with German scientists, The press Peter Predehl from the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, who is the lead researcher for the German instrument. The Russian Academy of Sciences had the same concern, in addition to the fear that scientific results obtained without German cooperation would not be accepted by academic publications.

Does Germany have remedies against Russia? “It all depends on the contract,” said Kuan-Wei Chen, director of McGill University’s Center for Aerospace Research. “This is really a case without precedent. Under space law, the interests of other countries must be taken into account. So Russia would normally have to compensate Germany if it damaged a German instrument.”

A responsible politician

photo from NASA’s website

Jim Bridenstine, then NASA administrator, and Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, during a period of cooperation in Baikonur, in 2018

Veteran of the Transnistrian War, leader of a right-wing extremist party, ambassador to NATO, author of a book on “betrayal” of the sale of Alaska … Nothing fateful Dmitry Rogozin to become the great head of the Russian space program, a position he has had since 2011. “He’s more of a politician than an administrator or a scientist,” says Mr Chen.

Among other threats, Mr Rogozin has stated several times since February that Russia could withdraw from the leadership of the International Space Station, which would condemn it to a premature death. His vis-à-vis is not left out: In March, former US astronaut Scott Kelly declared on Twitter that without the revenue from transporting Western astronauts on Soyuz, Roscosmos would be worth nothing. “Maybe you could find yourself a job at McDonald’s if McDonald’s still existed in Russia,” Kelly said.

Galactic embryos and black holes

photo taken from the Max Planck Institute’s website

The image of the sky unveiled by the eROSITA team in 2020

The German eROSITA X-ray telescope was launched in 2019 and aims to detect 100,000 star clusters, 700,000 stars and 3 million galaxy embryos within seven years.

In 2020, the eROSITA team released an image that revealed unprecedented features of the Milky Way: sponge-like bubbles of gas and intergalactic gas flow toward the center of our galaxy. Last summer, the discovery of 3 million black holes was announced.

Other missions on the ice

photo taken from the European Space Agency’s website

Artist impression by Rosalind Franklin

The main effect of the freezing of space relations between Russia and the West is the postponement of the launch of the Rosalind Franklin space mission, which includes a Russian lander. The launch was scheduled for the fall. Roscosmos has also suspended its contract to launch Soyuz cargo ships to the International Space Station (from Ariane rockets in French Guiana), and suspended support for Russian RD rocket engines used by launchers from US companies United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Northrop Grumman. The latter uses it for its cargo ship Cygnus, which also operates the space station. Finally, the British satellite internet company OneWeb, which this year had to launch dozens of satellites from the spaceport Baikonur, from Russian launchers, decided to find another way to get into orbit.

Canada’s precedent

  • Looking for the remains of the Soviet military satellite Kosmos 954, in 1978

    photo from the national archives

    Looking for the remains of the Soviet military satellite Kosmos 954, in 1978

  • Waste from the Kosmos 954 satellite

    photo from the national archives

    Waste from the Kosmos 954 satellite

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In 1978, the Soviet military satellite Kosmos 954 crashed into the northwestern territories. Its radioactive fuel leaked into the environment, necessitating an extensive clean-up operation. Canada sued the USSR to recover these decontamination costs, eventually obtaining CAD 3 million, half the amount claimed. “So far, this is the only case of a space-related interstate pursuit,” Chen said.

Learn more

  • 4 billion US
    Money paid by NASA to Roscosmos to transport US astronauts to the space station between the shutdown of the US space shuttle in 2011 and the first flight of the SpaceX Dragon capsule in 2020


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