The European Space Agency (ESA) recently suspended work with Russia on its next ExoMars mission, according to Space News. Not only has the policy provided yet another delay to the mission to put a European rover on Mars, but the decision is another step in the destruction of Russia’s space program following that country’s invasion of Ukraine.
Russian space chief Dmitry Rogozin tried to show courage, noting: “Yes, we will lose several years, but we will copy our landing module, provide it with an Angara launcher, and we will perform this research”. independent expedition from the new Vostochny Cosmodrome launch site.
It should be noted that the Angara rocket has been in development since the early 1990s and has been plagued by schedule delays and funding shortfalls. The Angara’s most recent test ended in failure due to a problem in the rocket’s Persei upper stage. The Vostochny Cosmodrome is located in the Russian Far East and is intended to eventually replace the current Baikonur Cosmodrome which Russia is leasing from the Government of Kazakhstan.
ExoMars has experienced disruptions due to the political decisions of the partners. The project started with NASA as ESA’s lead partner. However, as part of his budget request for fiscal year 2013, the then President barack obamaBarack Hussein ObamaThe Hill’s 12:30 Report – Manchin Jackson’s Magical “Yes” Faces Growing GOP Opposition in Supreme Court Obama, Clinton, and Psaki Cases Show Continued Threat of COVID-19 MORE terminated the partnership. Obama, who previously ended the George W. Bush administration’s Constellation Project to send astronauts to the Moon and then Mars, said he wanted to focus on Mars in a 2010 speech at the Kennedy Space Center. His decision to pull out of the ExoMars project was seen as a slap in the face to America’s European allies. The decision forced ESA to seek help from Russia to complete the project. Ironically, the Russian invasion of Ukraine left the ExoMars mission dry for the second time.
Despite the sudden change of partners, the first phase of the ExoMars project was launched in March 2016. It consisted of the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), designed to detect sources of methane in the Martian atmosphere, and the Schiaparelli lander , intended to test Mars landing technology. The TGO has successfully passed into Mars orbit. However, the Schiaparelli, which contained a number of instruments, crashed into the Martian surface.
ESA is now in a dilemma regarding the next phase of the ExoMars mission. The Rosalind Franklin rover was scheduled to launch in September 2022 and land on Mars in June 2023. Since Russia was supposed to provide a Proton launcher and a lander called Kazachok to deliver the rover to the Martian surface, the 2022 launch window is now out of date. question. 2024 also looks uncertain.
NASA has an excellent opportunity to step in, to offer its services to carry out the ExoMars mission and to rectify the mistake made by Obama. While ESA might want to use the next Ariane 6 rocket, NASA now has access to multiple launchers through commercial partners like SpaceX’s Falcon family of rockets.
The Kazachok lander is already in Europe but since it is based on the failed Schiaparelli lander, the ESA might also want to replace it. NASA has been successfully landing probes on Mars for decades. Something could be settled, if not in time for the 2024 launch window, certainly for the 2026 one.
ESA and NASA would benefit from such an arrangement. ESA will have acquired a more capable partner who is more likely to bring the Rosalind Franklin rover to the Martian surface intact. NASA will strengthen its credibility as a good space partner, which is important to attract more European countries to the Artemis Accords.
Russia, of course, will be the big loser. Its reckless invasion of Ukraine has already made that country an international pariah. The impact on the Russian space program is beyond assessment. Already, the constellation of One Web satellites, launched from a Russian launcher, has found a new supplier in SpaceX.
Russian participation in the International Space Station (ISS) appears to be continuing, at least for now. Indeed, the last crew of Russian cosmonauts recently arrived at the ISS dressed in yellow and blue flight suits – the colors of the Ukrainian flag. They are also the colors of the alma mater of the three cosmonauts, Bauman Moscow State Technical University. What was the inspiration for the flight suits is up to the reader to decide.
Mark R. Whittington is the author of the space exploration studies “Why is it so difficult to return to the Moon?” as well as “The Moon, Mars and Beyond” and “Why Is America Going Back to the Moon?” He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner.