ESA ends cooperation with Russia on three lunar missions

14 Apr 2022

An artist impression of a lunar lander. Image: ESA

Cutting ties with Russia’s Roscosmos is having an impact on planned ESA missions. It recently suspended the ExoMars mission and is looking for new launch partners to test its tech.

The European Space Agency (ESA) is continuing to cut ties with Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine and is now ending planned collaborations on three upcoming lunar missions.

The ESA announced yesterday (13 April) that it will no longer work with Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, on the Luna-25 and Luna-27 landers and the orbiter Luna-26. Instead, the agency plans to work with other organisations to utilise the ESA equipment that would have been tested on these Russian missions.

The Prospect lunar drill and volatile analysis package, originally planned for Luna-27, will now be used in a NASA-led commercial lunar payload services mission. The ESA also said an opportunity to test its Pilot-D navigation camera – originally planned for Luna-25 – has been found with a commercial service provider.

“As with ExoMars, the Russian aggression against Ukraine and the resulting sanctions put in place represent a fundamental change of circumstances and make it impossible for ESA to implement the planned lunar cooperation,” the ESA said in a statement.

Impact on upcoming missions

The halting of cooperation between the ESA and Russia is having an impact on planned missions.

In February, Roscosmos said it would withdraw its workforce from Kourou, the French Guiana spaceport, following the sanctions imposed on Russia by the EU. The Guiana Space Centre is the site of the ESA’s Soyuz launches, using the pioneering Russian spacecraft that has long been a staple of space exploration programmes.

The withdrawal of Roscosmos meant the ESA had to re-assess plans for the payloads under its remit and source alternative launch services. This led to the ESA suspending the ExoMars mission, which was originally scheduled for launch this September.

The space agency noted yesterday that all the elements of the ExoMars mission have passed flight readiness reviews. It has also commissioned a fast-track study led by Thales Alenia Space of Italy to assess how to move the mission forward without Russian involvement.

Alice Pannier, head of Ifri’s geopolitics of technology programme, recently told that the ongoing crisis in Ukraine is likely to have a structural impact within the space and technology sectors as both Russia and western countries look for alternative providers.

Despite the waves of sanctions that have been imposed on Russia and the ESA ending collaborative projects, Russian president Vladimir Putin recently said that the country’s planned lunar missions will still go ahead.

“We will restore the moon programme. I am talking about the launch of the Luna-25 automatic robotised spacecraft from the Vostochny Cosmodrome,” Putin said this week, according to Russian news agency Tass.

Speaking at an ESA council meeting yesterday, ESA’s director of human and robotic exploration, David Parker, said the removal of the agency’s navigation camera will not have an effect on Russia’s ability to conduct its Luna-25 mission.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic