The Ukraine-Russia conflict has thrown a spanner in the works of the ExoMars mission of the European Space Agency ESA. A tentative launch date was in September, but the sanctions slapped on Russia have created a certain level of uncertainty. As a result, ESA has more or less accepted that the launch of the ExoMars mission could be ruled out. In view of the changed scenario, the future of the mission hangs in the balance.

Space News quotes ESA saying - “Regarding the ExoMars program continuation, the sanctions and the wider context make a launch in 2022 very unlikely.” Officials would examine various issues involved and decide in consultation with all the ESA Member States.

Josef Aschbacher is the director-general of the ESA. He lamented the tragic events are happening in Ukraine, where a crisis escalated into a confrontation. The ESA has to weigh all the pros and cons and take unpalatable decisions in view of the sanctions implemented by the governments of the Member States. In April 2018, ExoMars mission wanted to occupy a corner of Mars.

Delays inevitable in ExoMars launch

Russia invaded Ukraine, and different countries levied sanctions on it. This has led to uncertainties on the launch of the ExoMars mission. Aschbacher says - “ESA continues to work on all of its programs, including on ISS & ExoMars launch campaign.” Space News explains ExoMars carries a rover named Rosalind Franklin.

The previous launch was for mid-2020 but the date slipped due to the impact of coronavirus and a few technical issues. The sanctions on Russia have added to the problems because its responsibility was to make available the landing platform required to deliver the rover to the surface of Mars. In case ESA decides to delink from Russia, it will have to identify an alternative.

That would mean more delays. Activities of this nature require a high level of expertise in Artificial Intelligence, robotics, and Renewable Energy. In December last year, ExoMars orbiter discovered water on Mars and brightened hopes of colonizing the Red Planet.

Russia’s withdrawal of support could affect ExoMars

Roscosmos announced its decision to put on hold cooperation with Europe on various space-related activities.

It includes the withdrawal of its personnel. Such a decision would lead to delays in European projects. Space News says ESA is aware of the future. It would work towards developing strategies to circumvent the problems. It confirmed the full implementation of sanctions imposed on Russia. ESA added it had had a dialogue with NASA vis-à-vis the International Space Station. During an interaction with the media, an official of NASA said that the invasion and sanctions had not affected ISS operations. In her words - “We’re operating just like we were operating three weeks ago.”

ESA wants ExoMars to search for traces of life on the Red Planet

Space adds that the task of the ExoMars rover of the European Space Agency is to search for traces of life on the Red Planet.

The plan was to launch it in September aboard a Russian rocket. That may not happen now because of Russian aggression in Ukraine and corresponding sanctions imposed on Russia. The ExoMars mission is in two parts. The first part is the Trace Gas Orbiter, which has been (in orbit around Mars since 2016. The second part is the Rosalind Franklin rover built in the U.K. It was initially a joint mission between ESA and NASA, but in 2012, NASA dissociated itself due to budget cuts. That was when Russia entered the scene to breathe life into the mission. As things stand, the revival of the mission would involve considerable financial investment from ESA. It has to replace the Russia-built systems.