It is now confirmed, the officials of the European Space Agency (ESA) announced last Thursday, March 15 that the rover of the ExoMars mission was not going to be launched by a Russian rocket. The rover in question being the result of collaboration with the Russian space agency, the latter had to use one of its launchers to send the device to Mars.
This decision was taken after a two-day meeting which saw the participation of all 22 ESA Member States. These states had imposed sanctions on Russia in the face of the invasion of Ukraine. Germany, which is the largest contributor to ESA in terms of budget, has also decided to suspend all its scientific cooperation with Russia towards the end of February.
The decision taken by the ESA seems logical if we consider the situation of each of the Member States. However, this is a blow for the ExoMars mission which had already been postponed twice. The rover was supposed to take off on a Roscosmos Proton rocket in September this year, but that launch will be canceled as a result. ESA officials said they are evaluating possible solutions regarding the future of the mission.
A path strewn with pitfalls
Sending the ExoMars rover to the Red Planet is the second part of the ExoMars program. The rover was named Rosalind Franklin in honor of the British chemist whose work was fundamental in decoding the structure of DNA. The device aims to explore the surface of Mars.
We can say that the journey of the ExoMars program has not been easy at all. Initially, it was supposed to be a cooperation with NASA, but this collaboration was canceled in 2012 due to a lack of funding from the American side. The Russian space agency Roscosmos then decided to take the place of NASA.
Roscosmos developed a landing pad for the rover and was supposed to use its Proton rocket for the launch. The latter was originally planned for 2018, but a problem with the parachutes forced officials to postpone it for 2020. The launch date was then postponed once again to September this year.
An uncertain future
For the moment, it is not known if the mission will still be able to use the landing platform designed by the Russians, or if the ESA will have to rebuild another platform.
The fact is that Russia recently ended its cooperation with the European spaceport in French Guiana in response to the sanctions imposed on it. Thus, Arianespace can no longer use the Soyuz launcher, which it has nevertheless used since 2011 in addition to the Ariane 5 and Vega rockets. Currently, ESA is looking for alternatives for the launch of 4 missions that were to be launched using the Soyuz rocket.
Let’s wait to see what solutions the ESA will adopt to be able to continue launching space missions without the help of Russia. Above all, let’s hope that ExoMars will not be forgotten because of this launcher problem.