Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency and conglomerate, has taken what is thought to be the illegal step of unilaterally ordering the switching on of a spacecraft instrument it does not own. The German Max Planck Institute ordered its eRosita instrument on Russia’s Spektr RG (Spektrum-Roentgen-Gamma) X-Ray astronomy spacecraft to be placed into a safe mode in March (after the Russian invasion of Ukraine). But in early June, Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roscosmos, gave the order to switch it back on.
Prior to its shutdown, the eRosita space telescope had been performing an all-sky survey of medium-energy X-Ray sources. Even Russian space scientists are concerned about the move, not least because of possible errors and damage in firing it up without German help.
This space “hijacking” – as some have described it – adds to the controversy involving the illegal transfer of ownership (the “stealing”) of space and aircraft hardware by Russia. In retaliation for Western sanctions after the war began, Russia effectively impounded 36 Anglo-Indian OneWeb communications satellites, which were due to be launched by a Soyuz rocket. Russian airlines have, in effect, stolen several leased commercial aircraft.
Roscosmos has since been under fire for having “Donbass” – a Ukrainian region currently being fought over – written as propaganda on the side of a Soyuz rocket transporting a Progress MS-20 cargo craft to the International Space Station (ISS).
Update on 14 June 2022: Dmitry Rogozin has used Twitter to call for the extermination of all Ukrainians for being an “existential threat” to Russians. “So let’s get it over with. Once and forever. For our grandchildren,” he said. There is no word yet from NASA about the Head of Roscosmos’s comments.
Update on 15 June 2022: After his Tweet effectively calling for genocide, Rogozin has now had his Twitter account suspended.
Update on 29 June 2022: Reuters has reported that Rogozin has accused all Western satellite operators of working for Ukraine. “The entire conglomerate of private and state orbital groupings is now working exclusively for our enemy,” he said. At the same time he ordered the release of the satellite-derived map coordinates of the Pentagon, in Washington DC, and the location where NATO heads were holding their Summit in Madrid.
Update on 8 July 2022: After cosmonauts display the flag of disputed Ukrainian Luhansk region, NASA finally objects to Roscosmos using ISS operations to promote Russian invasion of Ukraine.