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It’s very unlikely that Europe’s first planetary rover will launch in 2022, the European Space Agency said Monday, given Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the sanctions imposed on the country as a result.
The ExoMars Rover, a collaboration between ESA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos, had been on track to leave for Mars in September this year but ESA said “the wider context” made it unlikely. A formal decision would be made after analyzing all the options, the agency added.
“We are fully implementing sanctions imposed on Russia by our Member States,” ESA said in the statement. “We are assessing the consequences on each of our ongoing programmes conducted in cooperation with the Russian state space agency Roscosmos and align our decisions to the decisions of our Member States in close coordination with industrial and international partners (in particular with NASA on the International Space Station).”
Launch windows are delicate and timely for missions heading to Mars from Earth. The rover, known as both ExoMars and Rosalind Franklin in honor of the English chemist and DNA pioneer, was initially scheduled to launch in July 2020 but was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The ESA also canceled a live Q&A session with Matthias Maurer, an ESA astronaut currently on board the International Space Station. In addition to Maurer, there are currently four NASA astronauts and two Russian cosmonauts living and working on board the orbiting outpost.
NASA said Monday there were no signs Russia was withdrawing its support from the International Space Station as a result of US sanctions, despite that possibility being raised by Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin last week.
“We are not getting any indications at a working level that our counterparts are not committed to ongoing operation on the International Space Station. We as a team are operating just like we’re operating three weeks ago,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA’s associate administrator for space operations.
“Our teams – our flight controllers – are still talking together. … We’re still doing training together. We’re still working together. Obviously. We understand the global situation where it is. But as a joint team, these teams are operating together.”
In response to a question on NASA’s backup plans for the space station should Russia pull out, she said that aerospace and defense company Northrup Grumman had offered a reboost capability.
“And, you know, our SpaceX folks are looking at can we have additional capability,” she said.
Impact on the International Space Station
Rogozin had said on Thursday that US sanctions have the potential “to destroy our cooperation” on the International Space Station.
The ISS, which is a collaboration between the US, Russia, Japan, Canada and ESA, is divided into two sections – the Russian Orbital Segment and the US Orbital Segment.
The US segment provides power, while the Russian side provides the propulsion that keeps the ISS afloat.
“The Russian segment can’t function without the electricity on the American side, and the American side can’t function without the propulsion systems that are on the Russian side,” former NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman told CNN last week.
“You can’t do an amicable divorce,” Reisman said. “You can’t do a conscious uncoupling.”
CNN’s Kristin Fisher contributed to this report.