Launch of ExoMars 2022 “very unlikely” following Russian sanctions

Roscosmos withdrew from the European spaceport, leaving ESA to find an alternative to Soyuz for its space exploration launches.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has been forced to review its cooperation with Russia in light of the recent attacks on Ukraine and the global response.

In a statement released today (28 February), ESA outlined the decisions taken for the safety of its personnel involved in space programs and in keeping with the agency’s “European values”.

The agency will “fully enforce” the sanctions already imposed on Russia by its 22 member states, including Ireland. It also “evaluates the consequences” of these sanctions on all ongoing programs currently being carried out in cooperation with Roscosmos, the Russian state space agency. This review will also take into account coordination with ESA’s industrial and international partners, notably NASA.

Look for a Soyuz alternative

Last week, Roscosmos announced it would withdraw its workforce from Kourou, French Guiana’s spaceport, following EU sanctions imposed on Russia.

The Guiana Space Center is the site of ESA’s Soyuz launches, using the pioneering Russian spacecraft that has long been a staple of space exploration programs.

Soyuz, which means “union” in Russian, is often seen in action ferrying crew to the International Space Station, representing a major international collaboration involving ESA, NASA, Roscosmos, JAXA and CSA.

The withdrawal of Roscosmos means that ESA must now reassess plans for payloads under its purview and source alternative launch services, either from those currently in service or from its own Ariane 6 and Vega C launchers. , which are still in development.

It also calls into question the planned September launch of the ExoMars rover to Mars. ESA is analyzing options to make a formal decision on those plans but said “sanctions and the broader context make a 2022 launch highly unlikely.”

As Roscosmos exited Kourou, however, European Space Commissioner Thierry Breton was quick to assure that European satellite networks would not be impacted.

“This decision has no impact on the continuity and quality of the Galileo and Copernicus services. This decision also does not jeopardize the continued development of this infrastructure,” Breton said on Saturday, referring to Europe’s global navigation satellite system and its network of Earth observation data satellites, respectively.

“We are ready to act decisively, with the Member States, to protect these critical infrastructures in the event of aggression, and to continue to develop Ariane 6 and Vega C to ensure Europe’s strategic autonomy in the field of launchers. “, he added.

This follows a series of corporate and organizational responses to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Tech players such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and SpaceX have all taken action, while MIT has severed ties with a research university in Russia it helped establish a decade ago.

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