Germany’s Space Agency Cancels all its Projects With Russia. They Even Turned off an Instrument on a Russian Space Telescope

Germany is flexing its muscles.

The German government recently announced a massive increase in military spending to counter Russian military action in Europe. The German Aerospace Center (DLR) has cancelled its bilateral cooperation with Russia following that move. It looks like the Spektr-RG space telescope, a joint mission between Russia and Germany, is the first casualty of the cancelled partnership.

Germany operates the eROSITA x-ray instrument on Spektr-RG. It’s the primary instrument on the spacecraft and performed the first imaging all-sky survey in the medium-energy x-ray range. It was studying study black holes, the large-scale structure of the Universe, and galactic x-ray sources.

On March 3rd, the DLR released this statement stating their position and cancelling their cooperation with the Russian space agency Roscosmos:

“As one of the largest research organizations in Europe, the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) is committed to engaging in international cooperation for the benefit of society and industry. DLR employs staff from 96 countries. They stand for the peaceful coexistence of all nations and peoples. Violence should never be a means to achieve objectives of any kind. We, therefore, view the developments in Ukraine with grave concern and condemn Russia’s hostile actions.”

“DLR and the German Space Agency at DLR have been cooperating with Russian institutions on a number of research projects, in some cases with the participation of other German research organizations and universities, and international partners.”

“Against the backdrop of the aggressive attack on Ukraine, the DLR Executive Board is taking the following measures:

  • All collaboration activities with Russian institutions on current projects or projects in the planning stage will be terminated.
  • There will be no new projects or initiatives with institutions in Russia.

“Where necessary, DLR will enter into coordination with other national and international partners.”

That statement doesn’t leave room for any equivocating. But there’s a tense back-and-forth between Russia and Germany right now. And between Russia and everybody else.

Roscosmos Director Dmitry Rogozin said, “Taking into account the completely unacceptable actions of our German colleagues, primarily the German Centre for Aviation and Cosmonautics, I turned off one of the telescopes of our space observatory ‘Spektr-RG,’ which is located at a distance of 1.5 million kilometres from Earth at the La Grange point L2. This is a completely civilian international mission to explore the starry sky,” Rogozin said, failing to notice the irony in his statement about “a completely civilian international mission” as the Russian armed forces kill Ukrainian civilians. Rogozin also said that Russia has all the essential resources to conduct the experiments by itself. Will the international scientific community care about the results of the investigations? Will any journals publish those results?

Roscosmos followed that up with a statement about cooperating with Germany on the ISS:

“The State Corporation will not cooperate with Germany on joint experiments on the Russian segment of the ISS. Roskosmos will conduct them independently.”

Dmitry Rogozin does not come across as a sober-minded individual. On his Twitter account, he engages in unhinged threats and mockery of people like American astronaut Scott Kelly.

Some of Rogozin’s tweets seem comically inept and out of touch. He sounds like a relic from another time.

According to Google Translator, Rogozin’s tweet says: “Sir Winston Churchill, we will certainly convey your words to our liberal doves, with camomile in their beak, calling for peace on the terms of the West and Bandera.”

Germany isn’t the only entity ending its cooperative space activities with Russia. OneWeb, a satellite communications company in the UK, also cancelled its working arrangement with Roscosmos. OneWeb is launching a constellation of over 600 communication satellites on Russian rockets at the Baikonur cosmodrome.

OneWeb has cancelled its launch agreements with Roscosmos. Image Credit: OneWeb

OneWeb released this terse statement on March 3rd: “The Board of OneWeb has voted to suspend all launches from Baikonur.” There’s no room for equivocating in that statement, either.

Roscosmos Director Rogozin responded to this news on Twitter:

Google Translator: “By the end of the year, dozens of private Russian spacecraft for communication, meteorological observation and remote sensing of the Earth will be sent into orbit. For this, Soyuz-2 carrier rockets, which we have derived from the launch project of the British OneWeb satellite system, will be used.”

The Russian Government, including Roscosmos, seems taken off guard by these responses to their attack on Ukraine. They don’t seem to understand the enormity of what they’ve done, and it looks like they didn’t anticipate the scientific and space-related fallout of their invasion. And if Rogozin’s comments are any indication, it seems like they may never understand.

But Germany does.

Germany knows the sting of abject military defeat more than any other country in Europe. They know how terrible leaders can bring ruin to their societies and how they can cause millions of innocent deaths. They had a terrible leader who dragged the entire continent into war and left many cities in ruins. Now they can look a few countries over and see the same thing happening. Or near enough to the same thing.

So now, the DLR has cancelled their scientific relationship with Russia and put the future of the Spektr-RG mission in doubt. There are about four years left in that mission, and eROSITA has completed four of its eight planned sky surveys. The mission cost approximately $600 million, and it’s not clear if the mission will be completed or whether it can be adequately completed without German expertise. eROSITA’s principal investigator is Peter Predehl, a senior scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics.

This image shows the energetic universe as seen with the eROSITA X-ray telescope. Image Credit: By JohannesBuchner – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=91332675

By cancelling their involvement in Spektr-RG, Germany won’t cause Russia any pain. It might damage Russia’s prestige and set our scientific understanding of the Universe back a little. But it certainly signals intent.

Germany also seems intent on preparing itself militarily. When a country with a sizeable high-tech economy starts spending large amounts on its military, all while looking Russia in the eye, then Russia has to notice. Russia, or rather Vladimir Putin, has to see that the rules of the post-Cold War game have shifted and that Germany decided they had no choice.

What else is Germany supposed to do? Play nice?

The way things are heading, a cancelled x-ray sky survey seems insignificant.

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Evan Gough

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