The Rosalind Franklin rover, a collaborative project between the European Space Agency (ESA) and Roscosmos, the Russian counterpart, is unlikely to be launched this year. The situation was announced by ESA on February 28.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, economic and political sanctions have been imposed in many areas including work done by ESA. In a statement following a meeting between the agency’s 22 member states, ESA has explained the consequences of the sanctions.
“We are fully implementing sanctions imposed on Russia by our Member States. 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),” the ESA statement reads.
“Regarding the ExoMars programme continuation, the sanctions and the wider context make a launch in 2022 very unlikely. ESA’s Director General will analyse all the options and prepare a formal decision on the way forward by ESA Member States.”
The Franklin rover is part of ExoMars: the second-largest collaboration between ESA and Roscosmos after their share in the International Space Station (ISS). The director of Roscomos, Dmitry Rogozin, threatened the end of the ISS last week following the sanctions.
Roscosmos has already pulled the Soyuz launch campaign from the European spaceport of Kourou, in French Guyana, and withdrew its workforce. The rover was instead supposed to launch from Baikonur, on September 20 on a Russian Proton-M rocket. It was also supposed to use a lander of Russian design, called Kazachok, so the Russian collaboration was paramount to the timely launch of this mission.
The rover is named after the English Chemist Rosalind Franklin, whose extraordinary x-ray observations were crucial to the discovery of DNA. The Franklin rover’s mission is to look for evidence of life on the Red Planet.
The best way to get to Mars is to time it right. There are specific launch windows that allow spending the least amount of energy to send something to Mars. This is why China, the US, and the United Arab Emirates, all launched Mars missions in July 2020. The Franklin Rover was supposed to launch then but it was delayed. If it is not launched in September it will have to wait around two years.
Launch windows to Mars repeat every 780 days, so late autumn in 2024 will be the next suitable window for sending the rover to the Red Planet.