At a press conference yesterday officials from the European Space Agency (ESA) officially announced that the partnership with Russia to launch its Franklin rover to Mars has ended, and the launch will not happen in ’22.
The program is not cancelled, but “suspended.” ESA is looking for alternatives to get its Rosalind Franklin rover to the Red Planet. Earth and Mars are correctly aligned for launches only every 26 months, so the next opportunities are in 2024, 2026, and 2028. Aschbacher said it is not feasible to be ready by 2024, so it will be one of the later dates.
Since Russia had been providing both the launch rocket and Mars lander, ESA cannot simply find a different rocket. It needs to come up with its own lander, or find someone else to build it. For example, one of many new private American companies building lunar landers for NASA might be able do it, though ESA would likely prefer a European company. If it did decide to go with an American company, it would certainly not hire one until it succeeds in completing successfully at least one planetary landing.
The officials also outlined ESA’s need to find new launch rockets for many other missions it had planned to launch on Russia’s Soyuz-2 rocket. That need will also be an opportunity for American rocket companies, but more significantly it could be a blessing for Arianespace’s Ariane 6 rocket. The Ariane 6 has struggled to find customers because of its high cost. The loss of Russia as a launch option will likely drive some ESA business to it.
Roscosmos’ head Dmitry Rogozin in turn announced that it will go ahead with its own Mars mission, using the lander on an Angara rocket
“True, we will lose several years, but we will replicate our landing module, make an Angara rocket for it and carry out this research mission from the newly-built Vostochny spaceport on our own. Without inviting any ‘European friends’, who prefer to keep their tails between their legs the moment they hear their American master’s angry voice,” Rogozin said on his Telegram channel.
Whether Russia will actually do this is questionable. For the last two decades Roscosmos has promised all kinds of numerous planetary missions and new rockets and new manned capsules, none of which has ever seen the light of day. To make such a thing happen now seems even more doubtful.
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