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Europe suspends ExoMars program over Russia sanctions

The European Space Agency has indefinitely postponed its ExoMars rover mission, according to a statement issued by ESA on Thursday. The launch of the rover was supposed to be carried out in partnership with Russia and was initially set for later this year. However, it has been put on hold indefinitely due to sanctions as officials rush to reconsider their options.

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The decision to shut Russia out of the project arose from a meeting of the ESA ruling council in Paris on Wednesday and Thursday, in which the members “unanimously acknowledged the present impossibility of carrying out the ongoing cooperation with Roscosmos on the ExoMars rover mission with a launch in 2022.”

The group called on the ESA director general, Dr. Josef Aschbacher, to “take appropriate steps to suspend the cooperation activities accordingly.

The ruling council also called on the director general to carry out a “fast-track industrial study” to determine alternate ways forward for the ExoMars mission. The official is expected to convene a Council session in the upcoming weeks to discuss how to meet the program’s launch needs.

Even while acknowledging the detrimental effects shutting Russia out of the cooperative program would have on the “scientific exploration of space,” the ESA placed its members’ anti-Russian sanctions first, declaring that it “deeply deplore[s] the human casualties and tragic consequences of the aggression toward Ukraine.”

The Mars rover is not the only European space project to be put on hold for lack of Russian rocketry.

READ MORE: Russia cancels space launch with OneWeb satellites

Roscosmos has withdrawn its staff from the European spaceport in French Guiana, meaning all ESA missions involving the use of Soyuz spacecraft have been postponed indefinitely.

Among the other missions that stand to be affected by the institutional split are the navigational satellites Galileo M10 and Galileo M11, the space telescope Euclid, and the atmospheric sampler EarthCare, as well as an unspecified institutional launch. The International Space Station, however, will continue to operate as normal.

Commenting on the news, Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin said that Russia’s space agency will carry out a Mars mission on its own.

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