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ExoMars mission delayed to 2022, and coronavirus played a role

Published Mar 12th, 2020 9:10PM EDT
exomars 2020
Image: ESA

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  • The launch of the ExoMars mission has been delayed from 2020 to 2022 over testing woes and coronavirus concerns. 
  • The mission, which is being conducted by the European Space Agency in partnership with Russia’s Roscosmos, had previously been slated for a launch this summer. 
  • NASA’s Mars 2020 mission is still on schedule, at least for now. 
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

The ExoMars mission slated to launch this year has been delayed to 2022 over the need for additional testing as well as fears that the coronavirus pandemic would prevent the necessary personnel from being able to travel freely. The decision was announced by the European Space Agency, which has partnered with Russia’s Roscosmos for the mission.

Preparation for the mission is very close to complete, but testing of the parachutes that will ensure a soft landing on the Martian surface revealed the need for additional tweaking. With the timeline so short, and with the looming coronavirus pandemic complicating things even more, the team has made the tough call to delay the mission until 2022.

The ExoMars mission was slated to launch this Summer, so a full two-year delay might sound drastic, but it’s all due to the nature of planetary orbits. The ExoMars mission would likely be ready to launch much sooner than 2022, but the Earth and Mars are only in the right positions every 26 months or so. The window for Mars missions to launch opens during that time and, once it’s closed, there’s nothing to do but wait.

The ESA’s press release reads in part:

ESA and Roscosmos heads Jan Wörner and Dmitry Rogozin agreed that further tests to the spacecraft with the final hardware and software are needed. In addition, the parties had to recognise that the final phase of ExoMars activities are compromised by the general aggravation of the epidemiological situation in European countries.

“We have made a difficult but well-weighed decision to postpone the launch to 2022,” Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin said in a statement. “It is driven primarily by the need to maximize the robustness of all ExoMars systems as well as force majeure circumstances related to exacerbation of the epidemiological situation in Europe which left our experts practically no possibility to proceed with travels to partner industries. I am confident that the steps that we and our European colleagues are taking to ensure mission success will be justified and will unquestionably bring solely positive results for the mission implementation.”

NASA’s Mars 2020 mission is still on schedule to launch this Summer, at least for the time being. NASA is already dealing with coronavirus concerns of its own in the United States, but as of now, the mission is still on schedule. If for some reason the agency had to delay the mission, NASA would also be likely looking at a 2022 launch date.

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