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European Space Agency suspends joint Mars mission with Russia

A joint mission to Mars between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian space agency Roscosmos has been suspended due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The ExoMars mission, which included an orbiter launched in 2016 and a planned rover to be launched this year, is now on hold while ESA decides how to proceed.

“As an intergovernmental organisation mandated to develop and implement space programmes in full respect with European values, we deeply deplore the human casualties and tragic consequences of the aggression towards Ukraine,” ESA said in a statement. “While recognising the impact on scientific exploration of space, ESA is fully aligned with the sanctions imposed on Russia by its Member States.”

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ExoMars Rosalind Franklin rover.
The ExoMars Rosalind Franklin rover. ESA/Roscosmos

The ExoMars Rosalind Franklin rover was originally intended to be launched in 2020, but that launch was delayed due to the coronavirus. The launch had to be delayed by two years due to the timing of Earth and Mars coming close to each other, which happens around every 26 months. The ESA rover was to be delivered to the Martian surface by the Kazachok lander, built by Roscosmos.

Given the invasion of Ukraine, ESA previously stated that it was “very unlikely” that the ExoMars rover would be launched in 2022 as planned. Now it looks as if the launch will be suspended indefinitely, and the future of the rover is unclear. The rover is built by ESA, so there is some hope that it could be launched in cooperation with another partner such as NASA. There is a possibility that the rover could be launched in 2026 or 2028 if the relationship with Roscosmos improves.

In a press conference reported by SpaceNews, David Parker, head of human and robotic exploration at ESA, expressed sadness at the situation due to the years of work that had been put into the mission. “It’s a disappointment for the people involved in the project,” he said. “It was an agonizing decision for the council to make.”