Russia loses a major partner for its upcoming moon missions

In the latest of Roscosmos' list of lost space partners.
Brad Bergan
A depiction of the moon from Earth orbit.aryos / iStock

Another major space agency is pulling away from Russia's missions.

The European Space Agency (ESA) won't join Russia for the latter's missions to the moon — dubbed Luna — amid ongoing sanctions on Russia in the wake of President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine, according to a release from the ESA.

The Luna missions consist of three different ventures, the first of which is slated to launch in September — including a lunar polar orbiter, a navigation demo, two lunar landers, a spectrometer, and a lunar drill, along with many other science- and technologically-focused payloads.

The European Space Agency takes a second look at its partnerships with Russia

And this isn't the only collaborative effort between the ESA and Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, put at risk by Russia's military operations in Ukraine. A mission that involved the ExoMars Rosalind Franklin rover was slated to launch on a flight to Mars later in 2022, but, since Roscosmos was assigned to launch it, this isn't moving forward.

Now the rover is in storage with the ESA, which is looking to Thales Alenia Space, in Italy, for possible alternative delivery systems. But it's probably stalled for the time-being, since Russia's Kazachok lander and descent stage technology was crucial to the rover mission.

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One of the primary objectives for the ESA in partnering with Russia's Luna missions was to place its PILOT navigation under a real-world test. This system functions by processing images of the moon's surface — much like facial recognition software. In the future, landers with PILOT aboard could see and dodge dangerous objects on the ground, like boulders, craters, or other vehicles.

Global crises stack up like cards

The three Luna missions were to develop the PILOT capabilities collectively, but that won't be happening on schedule with the cessation of cooperation between the two space agencies. The ESA also wanted to use its Package for Resource Observation and in-Situ Prospecting for Exploration, Commercial exploitation and Transportation (PROSPECT) lunar drill, along with a volatile analysis package, on the Luna-27 mission.

PROSPECT would have gathered ice from sublunar regions, and stored them in a lab, for further analysis. But, to the ESA, the "science and technology for these missions remains of vital importance," which could mean these projects aren't dead in the water. With global crises stacking on every country like a deck of cards — from supply and energy shortages to lingering pandemic anxieties to climate change and even the possibility of global conflict — it's probably not an overwhelmingly unwise decision for Europe to take a second look at its big space ambitions.

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