A major Mars mission to find out if life ever existed on the planet could be delayed by up to six years at best as Europe scrambles to replace Russian parts.
The groundbreaking £844 million ($1.1 billion) project was due to start in September but it is now stopped dramatically because of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine.
Experts who worked tirelessly on the Rosalind Franklin rover hoped that science would do so rise above politics and that they might be able to resume working together if the war soon stops.
But with no end in sight, the European Space Agency (ESA) said on Thursday that the September launch would no longer take place.
The earliest next launch window is 2024, but that would only be possible if sanctions are lifted and Russia’s space agency Roscosmos can remain involved.
Otherwise, Europe will have to go it alone, which would require member states to raise more money, or they could find a new partner like Nasa.
And because of the alignment of the planets around the sun, experts only have a very limited time every 26 months to perform the launch.
That means the next possible opportunities won’t be until 2024, 2026, and 2028.
University College London professor Andrew Coates, who is part of the mission, told The Sun he thinks 2026 and 2028 dates are more likely.
“It’s hard to say right now, but I think those later launch dates in 2026 and 2028 are more likely than the near ones due to the difficult geopolitics at the moment,” he said.
“I think we either have to do it alone or come up with another international partner for it.
“The best possible case would be if the war stopped now and we could start in two years.”
Russia was responsible for large parts, including the launch, the landing system to touch down the rover, and the radioactive heating units.
Some of the latest tests were done just three weeks ago and showed everything was ready.
Now experts are preparing to hold crisis talks next week to determine how to keep the mission running.
“The whole team is very disappointed and frustrated, we’ve already had meetings to move things forward,” said Professor Coates.
“In the past, at the end of the Cold War, the science really went beyond politics on this one, but it looks like we’re headed for another Cold War again, and in this case, unfortunately, we’re going into the other one Direction.”
But he said everyone is “optimistic” and “still excited about the mission.”
Search for signs of life
When it’s finally launched — and if it’s successful — the mission will drill two meters underground for biomarkers, the deepest we’ve ever dug on Mars.
This should show whether life existed on the planet around 3.8 billion years ago.
And it may be the first time we’ve seen signs of life anywhere in the universe other than Earth.
In other news, prudish Nasa has admitted it may need to study sex in space if humanity is ever to make it to other planets.
A ancient mega landslide Exposed deep beneath the ocean could cause a massive tsunami with “just a little tremor in the wrong place.”
Samsung was blamed performance throttling of more than 10,000 apps running on his latest smartphone.
And Nasa lets you send your name on a flight around the moon – FREE.
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https://www.thesun.ie/tech/8532733/rosalind-franklin-mission-europe-russia-ukraine/ Europe’s first mission to Mars “could be delayed until 2028 because of the invasion of Ukraine,” claims one scientist