ESA scratches ExoMars 2022 launch for this year after suspending cooperation with Russia Roscosmos

The European Space Agency’s ExoMars 2022 mission will not launch as planned in September after the agency suspended all cooperation with the Russian space program Roscosmos.

The mission, led by Roscosmos and ESA, aims to study past life on Mars.

ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher called the September launch “practically impossible, but also politically impossible” given Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Aschbacher spoke at a press conference to announce the decision made by the ESA Council earlier this week.

Two stage mission

ExoMars consists of two parts. The first part launched the orbiter and lander in 2016, but the lander crashed. The launch in September 2022 was supposed to be the second stage of the delivery of the rover to the planet.

This second part of the mission was originally scheduled for July 2020. But it was delayed until September of this year due to technical problems.

The ESA hinted at the decision to suspend cooperation with Russia in a February 28 press statement. The statement said the sanctions imposed on Russia and the broader context of the Ukraine conflict make a launch in 2022 “highly unlikely.”

Now it has been canceled altogether for this year.

But while ExoMars is suspended, International Space Station (ISS) operations continue as normal, Aschbacher said.

Joining the crew this weekend are three Russian cosmonauts who launched on a Russian Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan on Friday. And on March 30, a Russian capsule should return two Russian and one American cosmonauts to Earth.

The Russians promise to go alone

Russia reacted to the ESA’s decision by saying it would go to Mars on its own.

“Roskosmos will be able to conduct a Martian expedition on its own,” the head of the agency, Dmitry Rogozin, said in a statement.

“Yes, we will lose a few years, but we will copy our landing module, equip it with the Angara launch vehicle, and we will conduct this research expedition from the new launch pad at the Vostochny cosmodrome on our own,” Rogozin said.

Aschbacher said ESA would consider working with NASA, which he said had expressed a “very strong desire” to work together on the mission.

ESA and NASA were the original employees of ExoMars, but NASA pulled out in 2012 due to budget issues. NASA’s place in the project was taken by Russia in 2013.

Dependent on Russia

The mission uses a number of Russian-made components, including missiles. For launch in 2016, a Russian-made Proton-M rocket was used, the launch of which is scheduled for September.

Many components of the mission’s rover are also produced in Russia. This includes radioisotope heaters, which are used to heat the rover at night on the Martian surface.

David Parker, ESA’s director of human and robot research, suggested that future cooperation with Russia is not out of the question.

Parker said if cooperation with Russia is renewed, the mission could potentially start in 2024.

If Europe is left without Russia, it will have to reconfigure the mission.

According to Parker, “radical reconfigurations” of the mission, not related to cooperation with Russia, could potentially allow it to be launched in 2026 or 2028.

Mars will be waiting for us

“It was a painful decision for our council,” he said. “Literally hundreds of scientists and engineers in Europe, the United States and, yes, Russia have worked tirelessly to overcome technical challenges, software challenges and different cultures to get to the point where we have a spacecraft ready to launch. “.

But even if the mission takes longer to complete, he said, Mars will still be there.

“Mars is four and a half billion years old, so we just have to wait a few more years for it to reveal all its secrets and perhaps answer this fundamental question: Was there ever life on Mars?” Parker said. . “It’s a hard, bittersweet time.”

Editor: Zulfikar Ebbani

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