Space missions are thwarted for all sorts of reasons, from engineering issues to budget issues. But the ExoMars mission, the joint European-Russian plan to send a rover to Mars, ran into a tricky political and ethical problem when Russia invaded Ukraine last year. The European Space Agency (ESA) had been working with the Russian space agency Roscomos on the mission, but this partnership was soon called off over what the ESA called “human casualties and tragic consequences of the aggression against Ukraine.”
Without Roscosmos, the Rosalind Franklin rover was left without a launcher and it was unclear if the rover could launch. But reluctant to give up on the project, ESA decided it would build its own lander and bring the rover to Mars hopefully by 2030. This week, ESA shared more information about the plans for the mission and how it is continuing with testing. of the rover. .
While the ESA estimates that it will take at least three to four years to build a new lander, the rover itself has been nearly ready for a long time. It was originally scheduled for a 2020 release but was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, then for a 2022 release, which was delayed due to the invasion of Ukraine. Now, engineers continue to test the rover alongside its twin, Amalia, recently putting it through a drill test in a simulated Martian environment.
The rover will dig nearly 6 feet deep into the Martian surface, which is 25 times deeper than previous Mars missions, to look for subsurface features like water ice. Recent tests used layers of soft silica, sand, and volcanic soil to simulate Martian soil and test whether the drill could be used to collect samples.
The twin rover was able to take a sample, use its imager to take close-up photos of the sample, and grind the sample into a powder for scientific analysis. This test shows that the rover itself looks in good shape, but the entire process of designing and building a lander for the rover still needs to be addressed.
In a video, ESA staff talk about the decision to call off the mission and how they are adjusting to the new plan. “The war in Ukraine has had a massive impact on our work,” Pietro Baglioni, manager of the ExoMars Rover, said in the video. “We were ready to start the ExoMars launch campaign, and suddenly we had to stop and reconsider our plans.”
“It has been very difficult for the team to digest this decision because they have been working very hard in recent years,” continued Baglioni. “In fact, it was also difficult from a human perspective. But of course they understand the political implications, so they managed to reboot.”