Europe is temporarily suspending its mission with Russia to bring an unmanned scout to Mars. The cart was supposed to be launched later this year, but that is unfeasible because of the Russian war in Ukraine and the sanctions that have been imposed on it.
The European Space Agency (ESA) announced the decision on Thursday. The decision was unanimous, according to the organization. The ESA has 22 member states, including the Netherlands. The organization said in a statement that it deeply regrets “the human casualties and tragic consequences of the aggression against Ukraine”. Furthermore, the organization “fully supports the sanctions imposed on Russia”.
The joint mission is called Exomars. Europe built the mobile laboratory, the Rosalind Franklin. That should be done on Mars. Russia provided the vessel to take the cart to Mars and the lander to land it on the surface of Mars. The development is almost complete, and the launch was planned for September. The explorer should arrive on Mars in June next year. The ESA is now looking for another way to bring the cart to Mars.
Flights to Mars cannot just leave at any time because the distance between the two planets is sometimes too great. Once every two years or so, the two planets are close together, which is the ideal time to make the long and difficult crossing. The upcoming so-called launch window will run from August to November this year. The next opportunity to launch is between September 2024 and May 2025. The journey will take approximately nine months, so Rosalind Franklin would arrive at the earliest between June 2025 and February 2026.
In recent years, space travel has been one of the few areas in which Russia and Western countries have collaborated. Russia, Europe, the United States, Canada and Japan jointly manage the International Space Station. Many crew members, including Dutch astronaut André Kuipers, were launched from Kazakhstan’s Russian Baykonur space base.