European Space Agency suspends joint Mars rover mission with Russia

M Thiebaut / Associated Press

The European Space Agency (ESA) has suspended its joint Mars rover mission with Russia as the nation continues its invasion of Ukraine.

The agency announced in a statement on Thursday that its ruling council has mandated that the ESA director general “take appropriate steps to suspend the cooperation activities accordingly.”

The rover mission was set to launch this year, but the agency’s ruling council determined that it was impossible to work with Russia’s space agency, dubbed ​​Roscosmos.

The decision came after the council met in Paris on March 16 and March 17, according to the ESA.

“ESA’s ruling Council, meeting in Paris on 16-17 March, assessed the situation arising from the war in Ukraine regarding ExoMars, and unanimously … 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,” the group wrote in a statement.

The ESA said the ruling council authorized the director general to complete a “fast-track industrial study to better define the available options for a way forward to implement the ExoMars rover mission.”

The ExoMars mission would have marked Europe’s first rover mission to Mars to hunt for indications of life, according to Axios. It was scheduled to begin this year, launching from the Guiana Space Centre on a Russian Soyuz rocket.

The agency said all missions that are set to launch by Soyuz have been put on hold.

The ESA’s announcement came as the Russian invasion of Ukraine enters its fourth week, with no signs of the Kremlin slowing its offensive. The agency said that while it recognizes the effect the mission would have had on space exploration, it supports the sanctions levied against Russia in response to its invasion.

“While recognising the impact on scientific exploration of space, ESA is fully aligned with the sanctions imposed on Russia by its Member States,” the agency wrote in a statement.

The European Union has imposed sweeping sanctions on Russia, targeting politicians, oligarchs and the country’s financial, energy and transport sectors.

​​Roscosmos last month announced on Twitter that it was suspending cooperation with its European partners on Soyuz rocket launches from Europe’s spaceport in response to the sweeping sanctions placed on Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine.

The ESA said that suspension influenced four other planned satellite missions in addition to ExoMars, according to Axios.

Tags European Space Agency Russia Russia-Ukraine conflict Space exploration

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