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Mars Rover Faces Uncertain Fate as ESA Suspends Cooperation With Russia

The European Space Agency is officially no longer working with Roscosmos on the ExoMars program and the Rosalind Franklin rover.


This story is part of War in Ukraine, CNET's coverage of events there and of the wider effects on the world.

The European Space Agency had been excited to join NASA and China's space agency by landing a rover on Mars in 2023. Now, Russia's war on Ukraine has led ESA to suspend cooperation with Russia's Roscosmos space agency, throwing the joint ExoMars program and the rover's launch into limbo.

In a statement on Thursday, ESA "acknowledged the present impossibility of carrying out the ongoing cooperation with Roscosmos on the ExoMars rover mission with a launch in 2022, and mandated the ESA director general to take appropriate steps to suspend the cooperation activities accordingly."

ESA had already warned the Rosalind Franklin rover was unlikely to launch this year due to uncertainty around the ExoMars program. The latest announcement seals the deal.

This doesn't mean ESA is abandoning the rover. A tremendous amount of work has gone into the mission, which was already delayed from its original targeted launch in 2020 due to technical problems and pandemic-related issues. The space agency said it would carry out a fast-track industrial study to "better define the available options for a way forward to implement the ExoMars rover mission."

The ExoMars program already sent a spacecraft to Mars, the Trace Gas Orbiter, which remains in operation. 

The rover had been scheduled to launch on a Russian-made rocket. If Rosalind Franklin does eventually launch, it would likely need to find another ride to space. That's no easy task, and it's a challenge that could take quite a bit of time to sort out.