• The measure, announced this Thursday, is included among the sanctions imposed by the conflict with Ukraine

  • Russia says it will send its own expedition to Mars and accuses Europe of putting its anti-Russian stance before scientific goals

the next big Space mission heading to the red planet is suspended indefinitely. This Thursday, after two weeks of tense debate, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced the definitive suspension the launch of the Exomars mission; the joint project they had designed with the Russian space agency Roscosmos to search for signs of past life on Mars. After almost two decades of work, the initiative was ready for takeoff and, according to the calendar agreed by both agencies, the next one was going to start next September. But due to escalating tensions over the Ukraine conflict, Europe has decided to ground the ship and drastically cut all joint space projects with Russia.

As explained on Thursday Josef Ashbacherdirector general of the European Space Agency, the decision has been seconded by the member states of the entity (including Spain) and is part of the sanctions imposed on Russia for the conflict with Ukraine. Aschbacher has defined the measure as “a difficult but necessary decision“taken, above all, because it is”politically impossible” launching a mission with Russia in the current context. “It has been a difficult decision for different reasons. Especially since this mission has taken many years to develop and our scientists were fully committed to launching it,” the agency’s spokesman lamented during a press appearance.

Russia, for its part, has ensured that will send his own expedition to Mars in response to the cancellation of the joint mission. “Yes, we have lost several years, but we will make a replica of our descent module, we will equip it with an Angar carrier rocket and from the new Voschoni r cosmodromewe will carry out this scientific expedition on our own“, announced this Thursday the director of the Russian space agency, Dmitri Rogozin, who has also accused the ESA of “putting its anti-Russian stance before the common goals of humanity to study the universe and look for biological or geological evidence of life on Mars.

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Looking for alternatives

Following the decision to indefinitely suspend the launch of the Exomars mission, Europe will launch a “accelerated industry study” to explore what options could, in the future, carry forward this space exploration project. As Aschbacher announced, the European partners are already seeking the collaboration of other partners. For now, the name of the American space agency sounds. “Right now cooperation with NASA is an option. The agency has already shown its strong will to support the future of this mission,” said the ESA director.

Asked about the future of this mission, Aschbacher stated that if the collaboration with Roscosmos is resumed in the short termExomars could take off soon in 2024. “If we need to apply more drastic changes, the mission could be delayed until 2026 or 2028,” he argued after recalling that Russia has not only developed part of the Martian rover but also provides key components for the mission (such as titanium tanks and the propellant).

no russian rockets

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Following Roscosmos’ decision to withdraw from the French Guiana spaceport, Europe has also confirmed that all scheduled missions with Russian Soyuz space rockets are canceled. The measure, already anticipated a few weeks ago, will mainly affect five European missions; the next two releases Galileo satellite network (the ‘European alternative’ to the GPS system), as well as the Euclid mission (focused on understanding the dark matter of the universe) and EarthCare (a space initiative for Earth observation). As Aschbacher explained, Europe is already studying “possible alternative launch services for these missions”. It is considered, among others, to pull the European rocket (under development) Ariane 6.

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After this battery of announcements, the director of the ESA has also stated that in the coming weeks convene an extraordinary meeting of the member states to propose new measures related to the “technical and programmatic impacts in all other activities affected by the war in Ukraine.

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