The war in Ukraine will keep Europe from going to Mars this year.

The European Space Agency planned to launch a rover in September but called the mission off because it was partnering with Russia’s space program, Roscosmos.

The ESA’s ruling council met in Paris this week and determined that it was not possible to move forward with the mission as Europe continues to sanction Russia for its actions in Ukraine.

“We deeply deplore the human casualties and tragic consequences of the aggression towards Ukraine,” an ESA statement said. “While recognizing the impact on scientific exploration of space, ESA is fully aligned with the sanctions imposed on Russia by its member states.”

ESA Director Dr. Josef Aschbacher said the plans to launch in September are “now practically impossible but also politically impossible.”

The September launch was the second half of the ExoMars mission that started in 2016. ESA launched the Trace Gas Orbiter in 2016.

Russia provided the rocket for the 2016 launch and was partnering with the ESA this year as well. The rover the ESA planned to use, named Rosalind Franklin, uses solar panels to generate power.

Attached to the rover is a drill that uses Russian components. The landing platform for the rover was also Russian.


Rosalind Franklin was set to be the “first mission to combine the capability to move across the surface and study Mars at depth,” the ESA said.

ExoMars has been delayed once before. In 2020, the rover mission didn’t get off the ground because the ESA-Roscosmos team said there wasn’t enough time to test parachutes and electronics on the spacecraft.

Travel to Mars from Earth is tricky. The optimal launch window, which can be open for as little as a few minutes or as long as a few weeks, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, only occurs every 26 weeks. If the ESA cannot partner with Russia because of sanctions before September, the next earliest launch wouldn’t be until 2024.


Russia has been focused on beating the United States and Europe to land people on the red planet. In October, a NASA official testified that China and Russia were ahead of the U.S. in developing nuclear propulsion technology key to ferrying humans on the 176 million-mile journey.

“Russia has a significant nuclear electric propulsion development program,” Dr. Roger Myers, who co-chaired the Committee on Space Nuclear Propulsion Technologies for the National Academy of Sciences, said. “I could not comment on how far along they are. I don't have that kind of insight. It does seem to be more advanced than what we're doing today.”