Europe’s ExoMars rover, built to search for traces of life on the Red Planet, is not set to launch as planned in September aboard a Russian rocket due to sanctions imposed by European countries in response to Russian aggression in Ukraine.
The ExoMars missionwhich includes the Trace Gas Orbiter (in orbit around Mars since 2016) and the UK-built Rosalind Franklin rover, is the European Space AgencyESA’s most important cooperation with Russia outside the International Space Station. The mission, originally developed by ESA with NASA, was canceled in 2012 after the US space agency withdrew due to budget cuts under US President Barack Obama.
the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, intervened and restarted the mission. Its contribution includes the rover’s Kazachok landing platform, several scientific instruments and the launch of the Russian Proton rocket.
ESA has admitted that the September launch now looks unlikely in a new statement published on Monday (February 28).
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“We fully implement the sanctions imposed on Russia by our member states,” ESA officials wrote in the statement. “As far as the continuation of the ExoMars program is concerned, the sanctions and the broader context make a launch in 2022 highly unlikely.”
The ExoMars partnership has been plagued with problems for years. The first part of the mission, including the Trace Gas Orbiter and an experimental landing platform called Schiaparelli, reached Mars orbit in October 2016. While the orbiter began its observations without any problems, the lander crashed into the surface of the planet due to a software bug.
The launch of the Rosalind Franklin rover, originally scheduled for 2018, was delayed due to issues with the parachute landing system first until 2020 and then, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, until 2022 Now, the mission’s future is uncertain as it would require a huge financial investment from ESA to replace Russian-built systems.
“ESA’s Director General will analyze all options and prepare a formal decision on the way forward for ESA member states,” ESA officials wrote.
The ExoMars rover, named after British chemist Rosalind Franklin known for her research into the structure of DNA, may have a unique place among the fleet of vehicles currently exploring the Red Planet. The rover is equipped with a six-foot (2-meter) drill rig, which would allow it to study samples from rock layers much deeper below the planet’s surface than its American counterpart, the Rover of Perseverance. Astrobiologists believe that if life ever existed on Marchtraces of it have probably survived underground, sheltered from the harsh radiation that strikes the surface.
The ESA statement comes after Roscosmos announced over the weekend that it stop launching its Soyuz rockets of the European spaceport in French Guiana in response to European sanctions against Russia. European space launcher supplier Arianespace uses the mid-size Soyuz since 2011 in addition to its heavy Ariane 5 and light Vega rockets.
Dmitry Rogozin, CEO of Roscosmos replied on his Twitter account to the ESA announcement on Monday, writing: “The European Space Agency, despite the Russian grandmother, has decided to freeze its ears.” (Several Twitter users claiming to be Russian speakers confirmed the translation, stating that it referred to a Russian proverb meaning “to challenge someone by hurting yourself”).
Last week, the UK, one of ESA’s largest member states, indicated that future space cooperation with Russia may not be possible. Friday, the German Ministry of Education and Research has announced that “all existing and long-standing scientific cooperation with Russia is immediately terminated” and that all “ongoing and planned activities are frozen and subject to critical review”. Germany is the biggest contributor to the ESA budget.
ExoMars was aiming for a 12-day launch window opening on September 20. Due to the alignment of the orbits of Earth and Mars, spacecraft can easily only be launched to the Red Planet every 26 months.
Currently, the spacecraft is undergoing tests in Turin, Italy; he was due to go to Russia in April.