Ukraine invasion could delay ExoMars rover mission by two years
The war in Ukraine is having an interplanetary impact. Deteriorating relations between Russia and Europe mean the joint ESA/Roscosmos ExoMars rover mission faces a launch delay that could set back its Red Planet landing by at least two years.
International cooperation in space has been a recurring effort going back to the Apollo-Soyuz Test Mission in 1975, which was staged as a way to highlight the easing of tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Since then, international missions have been staged for reasons of diplomacy, geopolitics and economics, pooling resources to allow countries to achieve more than they could on their own. The problem is that such cooperation relies on, well, cooperation. If relations between partners go sour, then multi-billion dollar missions can be put in jeopardy.
This is especially frustrating for ExoMars because the rover mission to seek out signs of life on Mars has already experienced major delays. Originally scheduled to launch in 2018, the timetable was set back due to technical issues, and again delayed in 2020 because of the need for testing and COVID-19 restrictions.
Because the launch date for reaching Mars depends on the positions of Earth and Mars, even a slight delay can put a launch date on hold for two years. The current launch window for ExoMars was for October 2022, but the Ukraine war and the international uproar this has caused may make this impossible to meet, resulting in a new delay until at least 2024.
According to ESA, the split with Russia has also caused Roscosmos to recall its Soyuz launch crews from the European spaceport in Kourou, French Guyana. In addition, remarks by Roscosmos Director-General Dimitry Rogozin have suggested that if Russia decides to pull out of the International Space Station partnership, the space lab could be put into jeopardy because its ability to maintain orbit relies on Russian Progress cargo ships providing the needed rocket thrust.
In response to this, NASA has said in a statement that it is talking to Northrop Grumman about how to use the company's Cygnus cargo ship as a replacement.