Europe ends Mars rover partnership with Russia

Co-operation terminated due to sanctions placed on Moscow over invasion of Ukraine

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The European Space Agency has cut ties with Russia on a Mars rover on which the two were co-operating, due to sanctions placed on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

Europe’s ExoMars mission was supposed to launch later this year on a Russian Proton rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome, a complex operated by Russian space agency Roscosmos and the Russian military.

Roscosmos also built the Kazachock lander, which would have deployed the European-built Rosalind Franklin rover onto the surface of Mars.

The mission was suspended in March and Europe has now officially terminated the partnership.

It is now searching for new partners, the European Space Agency’s chief Joseph Aschbacher said on Twitter on July 12.

“ESA Council addressed the ExoMars Rover and Surface Platform mission, acknowledging that the circumstances which led to the suspension of the co-operation with Roscosmos — the war in Ukraine and the resulting sanctions — continue to prevail,” he said.

“As a consequence, the council mandated me to officially terminate the currently suspended co-operation with Roscosmos on the ExoMars Rover and Surface Platform mission.”

He said new plans made with other partners would be revealed at a media briefing on July 20.

Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin responded to the decision on social app Telegram, asking cosmonauts to stop using the European robotic arm on the International Space Station.

“I give a command to our crew on the ISS to stop working with the European robotic arm,” he said.

Russian space chief claims partnership 'sabotaged'

Mr Rogozin also accused Mr Aschbacher of “sabotaging” the partnership and said the space agency would “try its best” to bring back the lander back from Italy.

Russia’s space programme has had several setbacks to deal with since its forces invaded Ukraine in February.

It is no longer supplying Russian rocket engines to US businesses and French company Arianespace has stopped using Soyuz rockets at a spaceport in French Guiana.

Russia’s partnership with US space agency Nasa is delicate but co-operation on the space station continues as before.

Recently, Nasa issued a statement criticising Russia for exploiting the ISS collaboration to make political statements.

Images were released by Roscomos on July 4, showing three cosmonauts on the space station holding flags associated with the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics.

These are part of eastern Ukraine, whose independence is recognised only by Russia and Syria.

“Nasa strongly rebukes Russia using the International Space Station for political purposes to support its war against Ukraine, which is fundamentally inconsistent with the station’s primary function among the 15 international participating countries to advance science and develop technology for peaceful purposes,” Nasa said in a statement.

Updated: July 14, 2022, 9:45 AM