The ExoMars rover mission will go ahead

ExoMars mission suspended over Ukraine conflict, satellite launches also affected

Image credit: European Space Agency

The ExoMars mission will not go ahead this year as previously planned due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

The project is a collaboration between the European Space Agency (ESA) and Russia’s Roscosmos, but the proposed launch has been put on hold for the time being.

The ESA said that it was “fully aligned” with the sanctions imposed on Russia by its member states despite the impact on the scientific exploration of space.

It said there was currently no chance of “carrying out the ongoing cooperation with Roscosmos” on the ExoMars rover mission which was supposed to launch at some point this year.

Dr Josef Aschbacher, ESA’s director general, said activities on the project would be suspended and a study looking into other options to continue to implement the ExoMars rover mission would be fast-tracked.

Following the decision by Roscosmos to withdraw its personnel from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, all missions scheduled for launch by Soyuz have also been put on hold.

These relate to four currently planned missions, Galileo M10 and Galileo M11, which will bolster Europe’s satellite navigation system, Euclid, which is a space telescope designed to explore dark energy and dark matter, and EarthCare, which is a satellite designed to examine the role clouds and aerosols play in trapping infrared radiation emitted from Earth’s surface.

Aschbacher said ESA will look at potential alternative launch services for these missions, which will include a review of the Ariane 6 first exploitation flights. Ariane 6 is a European-built expendable launch system that has been under development since the early 2010s. It is currently expected to launch in the third quarter of this year.

The International Space Station (ISS) Programme continues to operate “nominally”, the ESA said. The main goal is to continue safe operations of the Space Station, including maintaining the safety of the crew.

Later today, three Russian cosmonauts are due to launch to the ISS to replace three who are scheduled to fly back to Earth on 30 March.

The ExoMars mission has already been pushed back from 2020, because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the need for more tests on the spacecraft.

The mission was to have blasted off on a Russian Proton-M rocket from the Baikonur launch site in Kazakhstan in September, and had been scheduled to land on the red planet some nine months later.

In December, a scientist from the University of Stirling in Scotland was chosen as one of the first to pilot the ExoMars rover.

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