Ukraine war: ESA suspends ExoMars rover launch on Russian rocket

Paris, March 18 (IANS) The ExoMars rover mission, built in partnership with Russia, has been suspended by the European Space Agency (ESA) in the wake of Moscow’s ongoing war on Ukraine.

ExoMars rover was slated for launch in September 2022.

The decision to suspend the mission comes after ESA’s ruling Council meeting, held in Paris on March 16-17, with representatives of the agency’s 22 member states.

The meeting “acknowledged the present impossibility of carrying out the ongoing cooperation with Roscosmos on the ExoMars rover mission with a launch in 2022”, according to the ESA statement.

The council also “mandated the ESA Director General to take appropriate steps to suspend the cooperation activities accordingly”.

“Over the past two days, our Member States discussed the impact of the war in Ukraine on ESA’s space programmes,” ESA director general Joseph Aschbacher said on Twitter.

“Together, we took a tough – but necessary – decision to suspend the launch of ExoMars foreseen for September with Roscosmos, and to study options for a way forward.”

All the member states have imposed economic sanctions on Russia in response to its Ukraine invasion. In late February, Germany, which is the largest contributor to the ESA budget, suspended all science cooperation with Russia.

The ESA has also condemned Russian invasion.

“We deeply deplore the human casualties and tragic consequences of the aggression towards Ukraine. While recognising the impact on scientific exploration of space, ESA is fully aligned with the sanctions imposed on Russia by its Member States,” the ESA statement said.

The ESA Council meet has authorised the ESA Director General to study better “available options for a way forward to implement the ExoMars rover mission”, as it won’t be launched by Roscosmos, Russia’s federal space agency.

The decision on ExoMars is a blow for the beleaguered mission, which has been delayed since 2018 due to parachute issues. It was most recently scheduled to launch on a Russian Proton rocket in September, Space.com reported.

The ExoMars rover, named Rosalind Franklin after the British chemist whose work was fundamental for decoding the structure of the DNA, is the second of two missions forming the ExoMars programme.

It has been designed to search for traces of life in the atmosphere of Mars.