Months after the ESA severed ties with Roscosmos, putting the fate of the mission up in the air, a €360m investment will help ensure the rover lands on Mars.
Hopes of Europe’s first Mars rover reaching the red planet have been resuscitated after months of uncertainty.
Meant to launch in September, the €1.3bn ExoMars programme was suspended earlier this year after the European Space Agency (ESA) ended its cooperation with Russia’s Roscosmos following the invasion of Ukraine.
Severing ties with Roscosmos put the future of the mission up in the air, because the Russian space agency was responsible for designing and building landing gear for the rover, as well as launching the mission from its site in Kazakhstan.
However, a fresh €360m investment from ESA member states – which includes Ireland – announced last week has breathed new life into the ExoMars programme. A launch of the Rosalind Franklin rover is now slated for 2028.
“I am very relieved and incredibly happy that this great mission was not taken away from us and that I can continue to hope to steer a rover on Mars one day,” Daniela Tirsch, a planetary geologist at the German Aerospace Center in Berlin, told Nature.
Named after the woman who played a significant role in uncovering the structure of DNA, Rosalind Franklin is a robotic rover on a mission to find traces of ancient life on Mars.
But it has faced several setbacks since it was first scheduled for launch in 2018. After facing technical difficulties, its launch was delayed until 2020 – when the pandemic dealt the mission another blow.
Now, potentially with help from NASA on the mission’s launcher, breaking engine and heating units, the ESA has its eyes set on 2028 for Rosalind Franklin’s lift off towards the red planet.
“ExoMars is a really incredible mission that will be unique in method and scientific approach, even if launched in 2028,” mission member Francesca Esposito, a planetary scientist at the INAF Astronomical Observatory of Capodimonte in Italy, told Nature.
10 things you need to know direct to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of essential sci-tech news.