European Space Agency suspends joint Mars mission with Russia

The European Space Agency on Thursday announced the suspension of a Russian-European mission to land a rover on Mars due to the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine, with Moscow expressing regret over the “bitter” decision.

The ExoMars mission is set to use a Russian bomber later this year to send a European rover to search for signs of life on the Red Planet.

However, the European Space Agency said the war in Ukraine and sanctions against Moscow forced it to stop cooperating with Russia and look for another way to launch ExoMars and four other missions using Russian missiles.

“We strongly deplore the human losses and the tragic consequences of the aggression on Ukraine,” the agency said in a statement.

“Recognizing the impact on the scientific exploration of space, the European Space Agency is fully in line with the sanctions against Russia.”

Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, called the decision a “disgrace.”

“This (decision) is very bitter for all space enthusiasts,” Rogozin said via Telegram.

He said that the project “will lose several years” but that Russia “will conduct this research campaign on its own.”

And it would be done, he added, “without any ‘European friends’ with their tail tucked in because of the American scream.”

Delayed until at least 2026, Roscosmos responded to European Union sanctions last month by suspending launches and withdrawing more than 100 of its workers from the European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

ExoMars was originally planned for 2020 but has been postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

It was scheduled to be launched in September from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan by a Russian Proton rocket, and then was flown to Mars by the Russian Kazachuk lander.

The arrival of Rosalind Franklin’s rover, named after an English chemist and pioneer in DNA, will be significantly delayed because the launch window only comes every two years.

After meeting in Paris on Thursday, the European Space Agency’s governing board said its director general, Josef Schbacher, “will conduct a rapid industrial study to better identify available options for a way forward in the ExoMars rover mission.”

“The launch is over this year,” Schbacher said at a press conference.

The launch was not now possible until at least 2026, he said, adding that “collaboration with NASA is an option” that the European Space Agency would consider.

The agency said that all European Space Agency missions using a Russian Soyuz rocket have been suspended.

It includes two satellites of the European Galileo GPS system, the Euclid Space Telescope mission, the Japanese Earthcare observation satellite and the French military satellite.

The International Space Station is “stable and safe” and the European Space Agency said the search for alternatives to launching these missions would include “a review of the first Ariane 6 exploitation flights”.

The first flight using a European bomber, which will replace the Ariane 5, is due to begin by the end of this year, and the cabinet reshuffle could have spillover effects on other planned missions.

Aschbacher emphasized the importance of “creating a very rapid intensification” of Ariane 6.

He also said that the European Space Agency will hold an extraordinary meeting of the Council in the coming weeks to present proposals on its future missions.

“We have to dismantle” the ESA’s work with Russia, which began when the West sought closer ties with Moscow in the 1990s after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, he said.

The International Space Station was one of the greatest symbols of post-Cold War cooperation between Russia and the West.

At the end of the week, Rogozin again warned that Western sanctions against Moscow could cause the International Space Station to collapse – the Russian part vital to the station’s propulsion and control of the situation.

However, Asbacher said ISS operations were “stable and safe,” adding that “astronauts are operating nominally.”


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