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The ESA suspends its ExoMars joint mission with Russia

The ExoMars mission has been suspended. Its future is uncertain at this point in time, as the European Space Agency looks for a way to proceed without the involvement of Russian space agency Roscosmos. The ESA previously announced that it’s fully implementing sanctions imposed on Russia by its member states following the country’s invasion of Ukraine and that a 2022 launch for the ExoMars rover was looking unlikely. Now, the mission has officially been put on ice after the ESA’s ruling council met in Paris to assess the situation.

The ESA said in a statement:

“As an intergovernmental organisation mandated to develop and implement space programmes in full respect with European values, 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 council has determined that it’s impossible to keep cooperating with Roscosmos and has ordered the ESA Director General to take steps to suspend the operation. In addition, the council authorized the Director General to conduct and fast track an industrial study to find options on how the agency can move forward with ExoMars.

ExoMars is a two part mission, and the agencies sent its first spacecraft — the Trace Gas Orbiter — to Martian orbit back in 2016. They were supposed to launch a rover named after scientist Rosalind Franklin this year for the second part of the program after delays causes in part by the COVID-19 pandemic. The ESA was in charge of developing the rover, which was going to use a Russian launch vehicle and lander. 

This is just one of the space programs affected by the war in Ukraine. Roscosmos previously pulled out of the Guiana Space Center in retaliation for EU’s sanctions and also refused to launch OneWeb internet satellites that were supposed to head to orbit on Soyuz rockets. Dmitry Rogozin, the Director General of Roscosmos, also claimed that the sanctions against Russia could interrupt the operations of the country’s spacecraft that’s steering the ISS and could cause the station to “fall down into the sea or onto land. Russia stopped supplying the US with rocket engines, as well. At the time, Rogozin said “Let them fly on something else, their broomsticks.”

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