The European Space Agency (ESA) has officially suspended ExoMars, an astrobiology mission in collaboration with Russian space agency Roscosmos, in response to the invasion of Ukraine.
In an announcement Thursday, ESA said the space agency's bosses unanimously decided to indefinitely put the mission on ice citing “the present impossibility of carrying out the ongoing cooperation with Roscosmos.”
“As an intergovernmental organisation mandated to develop and implement space programmes in full respect with European values, we deeply deplore the human casualties and tragic consequences of the aggression towards Ukraine,” ESA's statement said.
“While recognising the impact on scientific exploration of space, ESA is fully aligned with the sanctions imposed on Russia by its Member States,” it added.
Tensions between ESA and Roscosmos have been rising since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Roscosmos pulled all of its staff out of the European spaceport in French Guiana, effectively stopping all launches using the widely used Soyuz spacecraft, due to European sanctions against Russia.
After numerous delays and setbacks, ExoMars was set to blast off in September 2022, reaching the Martian surface by July 2023 to deliver a Roscosmos lander named Kazachok and the ESA rover, Rosalind Franklin. Its mission was to study the geochemistry of Mars with the ultimate aim of answering one of the Solar System’s biggest questions: has life ever existed on Mars?
For now, it looks like those plans are in the dust (and sadly, not the Martian kind). However, there is still a glimmer of hope that parts of the project will continue despite this significant shake-up.
Dr Josef Aschbacher, ESA Director General, has given the go-ahead to carry out a “fast-track industrial study” to see if there are any other ways to continue their part of the ExoMars mission without Roscosmos.
Meanwhile, Dmitry Rogozin, Director General of Roscosmos, released a typically provocative message on Telegram saying that Russia will also look to follow through with their half of the mission without their "European friends".
“The work of thousands of specialists is crossed out by one piece of paper with the signature of some regular European bureaucrat. It's a pity,” Rogozin wrote.
“Yes, we will lose several years, but we will repeat our lander, provide it with the Angara launch vehicle, and conduct this research expedition on our own from the new launch complex of the Vostochny cosmodrome. Without any 'European friends' with their tails tucked in from the shout of the Americans,” he added.
“A very bitter event for all space enthusiasts.”