The consequences of the invasion of Ukraine are taking the ExoMars space mission ahead, a shared project between the European Space Agency (ESA) and its Russian counterpart, Roscosmos. It is the first major international scientific project canceled by the war.
The wartime life of Russian and American astronauts on the International Space Station
In a meeting held in Paris, the leadership of the ESA has recognized the current “impossibility” of continuing to cooperate with Roscosmos. The launch scheduled for September 2022, which was to take an exploration vehicle to the Martian surface – named ‘Rosalind Franklin’ – with the task of drilling the ground in search of possible organic material, vestiges of some form of life or Precursor materials of life.
“Even recognizing the impact on the scientific exploration of space, ESA fully aligns itself with the sanctions imposed on Russia by its Member States,” says the European organization it’s a statement.
“Without the European friend”
The director of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, considers this cancellation “a very bitter event for all space enthusiasts” and has announced through his channel of the instant messaging service Telegram that Russia will continue with a Martian exploration mission “without any ‘ European friend’ with his tail between his legs because of the American shouts”.
To make Rogozin’s words a reality, the Russians will have to overcome their traditional problems landing on the Martian surface – and on its moon Phobos – using their own parachute, rocket and retrorocket technology. Among a dozen attempts, most of them in the times of the USSR, only one (the descent of the Mars 3 probe in 1971) knew something similar to success: it managed to touch the surface and send information, but only for about 120 seconds. Then contact was lost forever.
Today’s action by ESA follows Roscosmos’ decision to withdraw its staff from the European spaceport in French Guiana and to suspend future launches of Russian Soyuz spacecraft to put European satellites into orbit.
As for the International Space Station (ISS), the ESA ensures that the mission continues to operate “nominally”: “The main objective is to continue the safe operations of the ISS, including maintaining the security of the crew”.
It was planned that the ‘Rosalind Franklin’ vehicle would be launched by a Russian rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome (Kazakhstan) and that the landing module would also be Russian. The company Thales Alenia Space participated in the mission providing instruments manufactured in Spain. Specifically, the electronic components of the vehicle’s actuators: the mechanisms that allow the wheels to be deployed, rotated and steered, among other functions.
For its part, the Center for Astrobiology (CAB) – a joint body of the CSIC and INTA – has led the development of the Raman Laser Spectrometer, an instrument that allows knowing the chemical elements that make up a sample of matter.