With sanctions in place on Russia owing to its invasion of the Ukraine, the European Space Agency (ESA) today issued a statement that said in part that the ExoMars rover mission had been suspended.
For Canada, it means that MDA’s opportunity to showcase its technology on the surface of Mars will have to wait. MDA developed the complete mobility system, including the chassis, wheels, electronics, along with the navigation cameras.
The ExoMars rover, known as “Rosalind Franklin,” is Europe’s first planetary rover and was assembled by Airbus. According to ESA “it will search for signs of past or present life on Mars and is equipped with a 2m drill to take samples from below the surface where they will have been protected from the harsh radiation environment.”
The ExoMars mission also includes the Trace Gas Orbiter which arrived at Mars on October 19, 2016, and which continues to provide scientific data. The orbiter also includes a Canadian contribution, also built by MDA, a communication antenna subsystem.
In its statement today ESA stated that it “acknowledged the present impossibility of carrying out the ongoing cooperation with Roscosmos on the ExoMars rover mission with a launch in 2022, and mandated the ESA Director General to take appropriate steps to suspend the cooperation activities accordingly.” It also “authorized the ESA Director General to carry out a fast-track industrial study to better define the available options for a way forward to implement the ExoMars rover mission.”
The also spoke to the cause of the suspension saying, “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. While recognising the impact on scientific exploration of space, ESA is fully aligned with the sanctions imposed on Russia by its Member States.”
With respect to the International Space Station, ESA said “the International Space Station Programme continues to operate nominally. The main goal is to continue safe operations of the ISS, including maintaining the safety of the crew.”
MDA has not yet issued a statement on the suspension of the ExoMars rover program.