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Next Mars Rover Likely Won't Launch in 2022 Due to Russia Sanctions

Already delayed, the ExoMars Rosalind Franklin rover faces an uncertain future as ripples from Russia's invasion of Ukraine affect space programs.

esaexomarsroverillus
ESA

This story is part of Welcome to Mars, our series exploring the red planet.

There are two NASA rovers and one Chinese rover currently operating on Mars. The European Space Agency's ExoMars Rosalind Franklin rover was set to launch later this year and join them on the red planet in 2023. On Monday, ESA said a launch in 2022 is now "very unlikely" after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The rover is a joint project between ESA and Russian space agency Roscosmos. It was scheduled to launch in September on a Russian-made Proton-M rocket from Kazakhstan. "Regarding the ExoMars program continuation, the sanctions and the wider context make a launch in 2022 very unlikely," ESA said in a statement.

The ESA update came out after a meeting of its member states to address the space agency's response to Russia. ESA said it will fully implement sanctions imposed on Russia by its members. 

The ExoMars rover was originally set to launch in 2020, but technical challenges and pandemic-related issues pushed it back to 2022. The future of the ExoMars program -- which already has a Trace Gas Orbiter spacecraft in residence at Mars -- is now uncertain. The Russian invasion is also creating tensions with NASA and the operation of the International Space Station.

Josef Aschbacher, ESA director general, tweeted on Monday, "We deplore the tragic events taking place in Ukraine, a crisis which escalated dramatically into war in recent days. Many difficult decisions are now being taken at ESA in consideration of the sanctions implemented by the governments of our Member States."