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1 Mar, 2022 08:42

European Mars rover launch ‘unlikely’ this year due to Ukraine conflict

The joint project with Russia is expected to be hit by sanctions 
European Mars rover launch ‘unlikely’ this year due to Ukraine conflict

The European Space Agency (ESA) believes the launch of its Mars mission developed together with Russia’s Roscosmos, which was scheduled for this year, will have to be postponed, it said on Monday. The mission will likely be put on pause due to anti-Russian sanctions imposed by the EU in retaliation for attacking Ukraine.

“The sanctions and the wider context make a launch in 2022 very unlikely” for the Rosalind Franklin rover, the statement said. ESA’s Director General will “analyze all the options and prepare a formal decision on the way forward by ESA Member States.”

The mission is part of the international ExoMars program and involves a Russian launch vehicle and lander and a European carrier and lander. Its primary objective is to look for evidence of life presence on Mars in the past, hence the rover was named after Franklin, a British chemist whose work was essential tp the discovery of DNA molecules. The Trace Gas Orbiter – launched in 2016 is supposed to relay data between the planet surface and Earth.

The rocket carrying the robotic explorer was originally scheduled to take off in July 2020, but the parties decided to perform additional tests of equipment, which necessitated a two-year delay until the next launch window. If the mission misses the September 2022 opportunity, it will have to be postponed by at least 26 more months.

Last week Roscosmos announced it was suspending Soyuz rocket launches from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana. It was done in retaliation for European sanctions imposed against the Russian space industry, which barred it from importing Western technology.

The ESA said it will “assess for each European institutional payload under our responsibility the appropriate launch service”. European launch systems, including the Ariane 6 and upcoming Vega-C are to substitute Russian rockets, it said.

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