ESA joins forces with NASA to get Europe’s rover to Mars

17 May 2024

Image: ESA

The ExoMars Rosalind Franklin mission is being boosted by NASA technology, following changes to the mission after the ESA cut ties with Russia’s Roscosmos.

NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are strengthening their bonds with a new agreement related to Europe’s rover mission to Mars.

The ExoMars Rosalind Franklin mission will see the ESA launch a rover in 2028 towards the red planet. This exploratory mission aims to search for past and present life on Mars.

The ESA and NASA have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to update NASA’s involvement in the mission. The key update is that the US agency will provide the lightweight radioisotope heater units for the rover.

“This pivotal agreement strengthens our collaborative efforts for the ExoMars programme and ensures that the Rosalind Franklin rover will set its wheels on martian soil in 2030,” said Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA director of human and robotic exploration.

“Together, we are opening new frontiers in our quest to uncover the mysteries of Mars. We demonstrate our commitment to pioneering space exploration and expanding human knowledge.”

Two years ago, the ExoMars mission faced a change after the ESA discontinued its cooperation with Russia’s Roscosmos space agency following the country’s invasion of Ukraine. As a result, the ESA reshaped the mission with new partnerships.

A €360m investment was secured in 2022 to resuscitate the mission and a launch data of 2028 was planned.

“The Rosalind Franklin rover’s unique drilling capabilities and onboard samples laboratory have outstanding scientific value for humanity’s search for evidence of past life on Mars,” said NASA associate administrator Nicola Fox. “NASA supports the Rosalind Franklin mission to continue the strong partnership between the US and Europe to explore the unknown in our solar system and beyond.”

In 2019, the ESA decided to name the ExoMars rover after the British chemist and x-ray crystallographer Rosalind Franklin, who contributed to discovering the structure of DNA.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic