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European Space Agency scraps plans for Mars mission with Russia

The European Space Agency is suspending plans to launch a Mars rover mission with Russia due to the invasion of Ukraine, the agency’s Director General Josef Aschbacher said Thursday.

The plan had been to launch the ExoMars rover — aimed at figuring out whether there has ever been life on Mars — this fall from the Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan, but ESA’s management ditched that plan following a meeting in Paris.

“The decision was made that this launch cannot happen given the current circumstances, especially the sanctions imposed by our member countries,” said Aschbacher. “This makes it practically impossible, and also politically impossible.”

That means the next launch window for the Martian mission will be in 2024, though that is also unlikely given the costs and time associated with figuring out a replacement for Russia’s contribution.

“It is clear that not launching with [Russia space agency] Roscosmos will make the 2022 launch date impossible, this launch window will be gone,” said Aschbacher. The launch “will not be before 2026 realistically.”

Aschbacher said talks had already begun with NASA over it stepping in to assist on the project, and a decision would be taken by the agency’s 22 member countries on how to move forward later this year.

Further complicating Europe’s space program, Russia has also withdrawn its staff from the ESA’s spaceport in French Guiana, making five satellite launches with the Soyuz rocket system impossible. That included launches of the EU’s geolocation satellite network Galileo.

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