ExoMars mission: ESA suspends cooperation with Russia

The news was expected. And hundreds of scientists including many French As exobiologist Francis Westall explained, ExoMars participants had no illusions about the fate of this mission, the purpose of which was to land the first European rover on the Red Planet. Science and the future in an interview. Therefore, after the meeting of the Board of Directors of the European Space Agency (ESA), which took place in Paris on March 16 and 17, such a decision was made. She admitted, unanimously, “current impossibility of holding constant cooperation with [l’agence spatiale russe] Roscomos about the mission of the ExoMars rover to be launched in 2022“.

“We deeply regret the tragic consequences of the war in Ukraine”

As a rationale and as a preamble to this official statement, the intergovernmental organization recalled that it was instructed to carry out space programs in full accordance with European values. “We deeply regret the loss of life and the tragic consequences of the aggression against Ukraine., highlights press release. Recognizing the impact on the scientific exploration of space, ESA fully supports the sanctions imposed on Russia by its member states..”

In this mission, Russia provided a launcher and a lander.

As early as February 28, four days after Vladimir Putin’s Russian troops invaded Ukraine, the ESA announced that the ExoMars launch would be “very unlikely“Because if the €1.1 million Mars rover was built by British, German, Italian and French teams, basically on the idea of ​​scientists from the Orleans Center for Molecular Biophysics , Russian ExoMars launch vehicle (Proton type). And it is also a lander (called “Kazachok”), developed by the Russian space agency Roscosmos, which was supposed to place the rover in the region of the Oxia plateau, near the Martian equator.

The project was launched over twenty years ago

Everything was ready for the start of the war, the Rosalind-Franklin rover passed its final tests in January 2022. It is currently located at the Thales Alenia facilities near Turin, Italy and was scheduled to depart in early April for Baikonur in Kazakhstan. several air convoys. The takeoff itself was scheduled for the period from 20 to 1 September.uh October 2022. The announcement is therefore particularly painful for this mission, which began more than twenty years ago, whose goal is to search for possible traces of life in rock samples taken at a depth of up to 2 meters. It should also be noted that four of the rover’s nine scientific instruments were developed by French teams. On the afternoon of March 17, the head of Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin considered “what a pity“pause mission: “Europeans withdraw from the ExoMars project. This is a very bitter event for all space lovers.“, the Russian official said in Telegram messages.

Uncertain future for the rover

ESA, for its part, indicated in the same press release that it had authorized its CEO to ” Lead an accelerated industrial study to determine the options available to launch the ExoMars rover. However, these possibilities are very limited. And time is against the continuation of the mission. Because if ESA does not resume its cooperation with Russia in the short or medium term – which is very likely, given the current situation – it will have to use another launcher, but, above all, another lander to land its rover on the planet. . However, such a project cannot be implemented in five or six years. Not to mention that some of the rover’s components may be moribund or completely obsolete by then. For this mission, which has already experienced many upheavals and various difficulties (technical, political, etc.), the future could not be more uncertain.

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