Fate is bent on ESA’s ExoMars rover. After having been faced with several launch postponements caused by technical problems and the Covid-19 pandemic, the war that has just broken out between Russia and Ukraine has turned the future of the device upside down. According to a press release recently published by the ESA or European Space Agency, the current situation would not be favorable to a launch for this year 2022.
In the statement, we can read that the ESA is fully implementing the sanctions imposed on Russia by its member countries. Regarding the continuation of the ExoMars program, the sanctions and the general context would make a launch in 2022 very unlikely.
The reason why the sanctions against Russia affect the ExoMars mission so much is that the latter is the result of a collaboration between ESA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos. The rover, which aims to search for organic molecules and signs of life on the planet Mars, was to be launched this fall.
A real crisis
On Monday, February 28, ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher acknowledged the possibility of another postponement. He described the situation in Ukraine as a “crisis”.
Aschbacher said they deplored the tragic events taking place in Ukraine. According to him, many difficult decisions are currently being taken within the agency taking into account the sanctions applied by the governments of the member states.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard that the ExoMars mission is going to be delayed. Initially, this mission was supposed to take off during the summer of 2020, but unfortunately the launch was postponed due to technical problems and the Covid-19 pandemic.
In 2016, the first mission of the ExoMars program arrived on Mars. This mission was both a success and a failure. The Trace Gas Orbiter was indeed able to place itself in orbit around the Red Planet, but the Schiaparelli lander which had accompanied it failed to land on the surface. A miscalculation told the on-board computer that the aircraft was below surface level, while it was still over 3 km above sea level, which caused the crash.
If ESA’s ExoMars mission doesn’t lift off this year, it will take 26 months before the Mars launch window opens again.