Today, the European Space Agency (ESA) and Russia's Roscosmos Space Corporation announced that the launch of the second ExoMars mission has been postponed for around two years until 2022.
In a statement, Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin explained the reasons behind this latest set-back for the mission.
“We have made a difficult but well-weighed decision to postpone the launch to 2022,” Rogozin began. “It is driven primarily by the need to maximise the robustness of all ExoMars systems as well as force majeure circumstances related to exacerbation of the epidemiological situation in Europe which left our experts practically no possibility to proceed with travels to partner industries.”
The ExoMars Rover, named Rosalind Franklin, was due to launch in July this year and land on the Red Planet in mid-March, 2021. However, the new schedule is now a launch between August and October 2022.
At this point, all the flight hardware necessary for the launch has been integrated into the spacecraft, and the nine instruments on the rover itself recently passed final thermal and vacuum tests. Equipped with a drill to dig into the ground, it is hoped that the rover will sift through soil samples for signs of life and better understand the history of water on the planet.
"We want to make ourselves 100 percent sure of a successful mission,” ESA Director General Jan Wörner said, when commenting on the delay. “We cannot allow ourselves any margin of error. More verification activities will ensure a safe trip and the best scientific results on Mars.”
"I want to thank the teams in industry that have been working around the clock for nearly a year to complete assembly and environmental testing of the whole spacecraft,” Wörner continued. “We are very much satisfied of the work that has gone into making a unique project a reality and we have a solid body of knowledge to complete the remaining work as quickly as possible."
The impact of the coronavirus pandemic has also been felt by NASA, after one of its employees at the Ames Research Center, California, tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) on March 8.
“We believe the exposure at the center has been limited, but – out of an abundance of caution, and in consultation with Ames’ Center Director Eugene Tu, NASA Chief Health and Medical Officer Dr. J.D. Polk, and in accordance to agency response plans – Ames Research Center is temporarily on mandatory telework status with restricted access to the center until further notice,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine wrote in a statement.