ExoMars Rover

ExoMars Rover NASA

A Planned Mars Rover Is the Latest Victim of Russia’s War on Ukraine

The European Space Agency and Roscosmos have put their ExoMars mission on hold.

Updated: 11:12 a.m. ET

The European Space Agency has suspended its joint program with Russia to send a rover to Mars, citing the “impossibility” of working with the government that launched a war on Ukraine. 

On Thursday, the ESA and Russia’s Roscosmos space agency both announced measures to end their collaboration, showing how the geopolitical split between Russia and the West is scuttling peaceful cooperation in space, too. 

The ExoMars mission involves a rover that was scheduled to launch this fall, land on Mars in 2023, and drill and explore for signs of past or present life. Russia was providing rockets for launch, contributions to the scientific payload, the surface platform, and ground station support. 

This week, the European Space Agency’s governing body ruled unanimously that the war in Ukraine created a “present impossibility of carrying out the ongoing cooperation with Roscosmos on the ExoMars rover mission with a launch in 2022,” the agency said in a press release. 

On his Telegram page, Roscosmos director general Dmitry Rogozin called the suspension a “pity” and said Russia would pursue the project on its own, and furthermore, work to accomplish “complete independence from imports in space instrumentation.” 

“The work of thousands of specialists is crossed out by one piece of paper with the signature of some regular European bureaucrat,” Rogozin wrote, according to a translation of his Telegram post. “It's a pity. Yes, we will lose several years, but we will repeat our lander, provide it with the Angara launch vehicle, and conduct this research expedition on our own from the new launch complex of the Vostochny cosmodrome. Without any ‘European friends’ with their tails tucked in” behind the Americans’ demands. 

ESA similarly said it would be seeking more independence from Russia, on not only the ExoMars mission, but “all missions scheduled for launch by Soyuz have been put on hold.”

Agency officials will be looking at alternate ways to run ExoMars without Russian parts or support, and will look for alternative launch services for these missions.

ESA’s ExoMars suspension follows several days of uncertainty over the West’s other major peaceful collaborative effort in space, the International Space Station. On March 5, Rogozin reposted a state-media video that seemed to suggest that American astronaut Mark Vande Hei could be left behind when Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft departs for Earth on March 30 with two other Russian cosmonauts aboard.  

Roscosmos later said Vande Hei would be returning to Earth as scheduled. In its statement Thursday, the ESA said that ISS operations continue as normal, and “the main goal is to continue safe operations of the ISS, including maintaining the safety of the crew.”