The European Space Agency may seek closer ties with NASA on its upcoming missions, especially the ExoMars rover, after it became clear ESA needed “to sever” its ties with Russia, the agency’s director general, Josef Aschbacher, said.
“Certainly one option which we are studying, there’s no decision made yet, but one option we are studying is also working closer with NASA,” Aschbacher told Becky Anderson on CNN’s Connect the World on Friday.
The ESA suspended its mission to launch Europe’s first planetary rover, aimed at searching for signs of life and investigating the history of water on Mars, last Thursday.
The rover, known as both ExoMars and Rosalind Franklin in honor of the English chemist and DNA pioneer, was designed by ESA and Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency. The mission was due to launch in September this year, but ESA’s member states voted to suspend the project, despite its late stage after 40 years of development.
“Geopolitically, it is clear that we need to sever our ties with Russia, and this decision has been made by the member states,” Aschbacher said. “So yes, it’s really unfortunate for all the science and technology and the engineers who have been working on this for four decades. But there is no other choice to make.”
Dmitry Rogozin, director general of Russia’s space agency, described ESA’s position as “frenzied,” saying in a Chinese television interview that Roscosmos “consider further cooperation impossible.”
Despite this lack of cooperation with Russia making “a dent,” in the ESA’s work, Aschbacher said the agency has “options.”
“Certainly from a technology point of view, we can do without the Russian expertise which we have got so far,” Aschbacher said. However, he highlighted “it is clear that we have to untangle what was built up over many decades.”
Space station ties
There are currently four NASA astronauts, five Russian cosmonauts and one European astronaut on board the International Space Station and relations are “professional,” according Aschbacher.
Rogozin previously said that sanctions against Russia could “destroy” relations on the space station, but Aschbacher denied this, saying “regardless of nationality or origin, the astronauts are a team that has to work together.”
Former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly told CNN last year that “those earthly political tensions never transmit to space.” Kelly and Rogozin recently traded barbs on Twitter, but the retired astronaut is backing off of the Twitter war.
However, a key concern of the ESA is cyberattacks, which Aschbacher told CNN have increased recently.
“We are regularly very carefully watching the situation day and night. As you can imagine, we do recognize some intensification of attempts. But I have to say that our system is pretty resilient,” he said.
He refused to say how many cyberattack attempts have come from Russia.