ESA-Russia Mars rover launch on ice after Ukraine invasion

Rosalind Franklin can't catch a break


The joint ESA-Roscosmos Mars rover Rosalind Franklin is "very unlikely" to launch this year after Russia was hit with fresh economic sanctions for invading Ukraine.

Following a meeting with its 22 member states, the European Space Agency confirmed on Monday it was "fully implementing sanctions imposed on Russia."

"We deplore the human casualties and tragic consequences of the war in Ukraine. We are giving absolute priority to taking proper decisions, not only for the sake of our workforce involved in the programmes, but in full respect of our European values, which have always fundamentally shaped our approach to international cooperation," ESA said. "Regarding the ExoMars programme continuation, the sanctions and the wider context make a launch in 2022 very unlikely."

Regarding the ExoMars programme continuation, the sanctions and the wider context make a launch in 2022 very unlikely

Russia is being further economically isolated as it continues to wage war on Ukraine, including sanctions imposed by the United States blocking shipments of semiconductors, navigation technology, and avionics to President Putin's nation. Now Moscow's space research efforts are feeling the squeeze.

ESA and Roscosmos had signed a formal agreement to hunt for signs that Mars was once home to microbial life. The duo completed the first milestone of this ExoMars mission when they successfully sent their Trace Gas Orbiter to analyze the atmosphere of Mars in 2016. The Schiaparelli landing module, launched with the orbiter, failed on its way down to the Red Planet's surface, however.

The second stage of the project, to land the Rosalind Franklin rover – named after the English chemist – on the surface to drill and collect Martian rock samples, was scheduled to blast off from Earth around September this year ... but is now on non-Martian ice.

Russia's space agency has also pulled out of future Soyuz launches from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, according to the ESA. "We will consequently assess for each European institutional payload under our responsibility the appropriate launch service based notably on launch systems currently in operation and the upcoming Vega-C and Ariane 6 launchers," it said.

ESA said it was working with NASA to figure out to what degree the sanctions against Roscosmos will affect the International Space Station. NASA Associate Administrator Kathey Leuders said on Monday teams were still training and working together.

"We are not getting any indications at a working level that our [Russian] counterparts are not committed to ongoing operations," she added. ®


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