Joint Russian-European Mars mission postponed over coronavirus


An announcement from the European Space Agency (ESA) has revealed that the ExoMars mission will be delayed for a further two years as further testing is needed to be done.

"We want to make ourselves 100 percent sure of a successful mission", European Space Agency Director General Jan Woerner said in a statement.

Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin said the decision to delay was primarily made due to the need to test the spacecraft's systems, but added that the COVID-19 situation in Europe has "left our experts practically no possibility to proceed with travels to partner industries".

Worldwide, more than 118,000 people have been infected by the coronavirus and almost 4,300 people have died, majority in China, where the disease originated.

According to the announcement, several parts of the spacecraft still need to crucial testing completed before it's given the green light to be sent off to the red planet.

The revised schedule sees a launch between August and October of 2022, with the landing to come the year following. "We can not allow ourselves any margin of error". But the star of the show would be the ESA's first rover on Mars, the Rosalind Franklin (named after a scientist who helped determine the structure of DNA).

"I want to thank the teams in industry that have been working around the clock for almost a year to complete assembly and environmental testing of the whole spacecraft".

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To day, all trip equipment required for the launch of ExoMars has actually been incorporated in the spacecraft. All 13 instruments have been installed on the Kazachok lander, and the Rosalind Franklin rover's nine scientific instruments are in the final stages of thermal and vacuum testing.

It is the latest setback for the ExoMars program, which saw the launch of an orbiter and a test lander in 2016.

The descent module has been undergoing tests in the the past month. Russian Federation is providing the launcher, the descent module and the landing platform for the mission, known as ExoMars.

Launch windows are delicate and timely for missions heading to Mars from Earth.

The rover will include a drill and what is described as a "miniature life-search laboratory".

This is the second major delay in the project's lifetime after the originally planned 2018 launch date slipped to 2020 due to various issues. For example, it wants to perform additional testing on the all-important parachutes created to slow the descent of the rover as it enters Mars' atmosphere at speeds of up to 13,000 miles per hour. The window for launching the missions to Mars opens during that time and once it is closed there is nothing to do but wait.