ExoMars rover launch delayed once more due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine

It was supposed to launch in summer 2020.
Loukia Papadopoulos
ExoMars 2022 rover.ESA

In December of 2021, the European Space Agency (ESA) was preparing for its ExoMars launch by completing the first successful high-altitude drop test of the ExoMars mission parachute. Now, it seems to be delaying this launch yet again due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. ExoMars was once scheduled for a summer 2020 launch that got delayed due to the coronavirus crisis and technical issues.

The ESA said in a statement published on February 28 that they disagreed with Russia's actions and would therefore not cooperate to send the rover to space.

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A deplorable situation

"We deplore the human casualties and tragic consequences of the war in Ukraine. We are giving absolute priority to taking proper decisions, not only for the sake of our workforce involved in the programmes, but in full respect of our European values, which have always fundamentally shaped our approach to international cooperation," said the ESA statement.

The space agency went on to say that it was fully implementing sanctions imposed on Russia by its Member States. Since ExoMars is a joint mission between the ESA and Russian state space agency Roscosmos, the agency can not go forward with the project and comply with Russian sanctions.

Once the mission becomes possible (whenever that may be), the ExoMars rover will search for organic molecules or even signs of life on the Red Planet. Initially, the rover was expected to launch this fall and arrive on Mars in 2023 but that date will likely have to be postponed indefinitely.

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Support for Ukraine

In a tweet, ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher reiterated the agency's support for Ukraine during these trying times.

“We deplore the tragic events taking place in Ukraine, a crisis which escalated dramatically into war in recent days,” Aschbacher said. “Many difficult decisions are now being taken at ESA in consideration of the sanctions implemented by the governments of our Member States.” 

The delay of the important mission is yet another example of the wide-ranging consequences that Russia's actions have had.