Joint Russian-European Mars mission postponed over coronavirus

Katie Ramirez
March 14, 2020

The mission, which is being carried out by the European Space Agency in association with Russia's Roscosmos, had been scheduled for a launch this summer.

Russian space agency Roscosmos and the European Space Agency (ESA) "made a hard but well-weighed decision" to postpone the launch of ExoMars to 2022, Dmitry Rogozin, director general of the Russian agency, said in a statement on March 12. The mission would need to be postponed because of "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 virus originated in China's central Wuhan city last December, and has since spread to at least 117 countries.

"We want to make ourselves 100% sure of a successful mission", said ESA Director General Jan Woerner.

While the outbreak of coronavirus Covid-19 has not directly impacted the launch delay, it has meant the movement of those working on the rover has been limited in recent days. "We can not allow ourselves any margin of error".

To day, all trip equipment required for the launch of ExoMars has actually been incorporated in the spacecraft. All 13 instruments have been installed on the Kazachok lander, and the Rosalind Franklin rover's nine scientific instruments are in the final stages of thermal and vacuum testing.

When it finally reaches Mars, the rover will join the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), which has been performing scientific research since entering Mars' orbit in October 2016, and which will also function as a communication link for the ExoMars rover when it finally arrives.

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The descent component has actually been undertaking propulsion system certification in the previous month.

The ExoMars mission was set to launch later this year.

Meanwhile, the descent module and landing platform have been undergoing environmental testing in Cannes, France, to confirm the spacecraft is ready to endure the harsh conditions of space on its journey to Mars.

Launching spacecraft to Mars can only be done every two years, to take advantage of a favorable lineup between Earth and the Red Planet.

Although there are no "current" plans to push back the Perseverance rover's mission, which is expected to land on the Martian surface on February 18, 2021, NASA is also dealing with altered plans because of COVID-19.

The ExoMars program is a joint venture in between the Roscosmos State Corporation and ESA. NASA's Curiosity and InSight landers are still in operation on the planet.

In any case, getting all that to the surface requires a muddled landing framework, and the ExoMars crucial utilize two arrangements of parachutes.

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