The Rosalind Franklin ExoMars rover.

The Rosalind Franklin ExoMars rover. ESA

Move over Roscosmos; NASA and ESA form ExoMars agreement

After the Russian exit due to war, the mission with the delayed Rosalind Franklin rover gets a new lift

Frought with delays and now geopolitical turmoil, the ExoMars' mission has long been in doubt until now. NASA is stepping in where Roscosmos once did, providing launch and radioscope heating units (RHUs) to European Space Agency (ESA) for the mission.

The ExoMars program consists of two missions to Mars: one comprises an orbiter and a descent module that were launched in 2016, and the other features a rover estimated for launch in 2028. These missions had been a collaboration between Roscosmos and ESA until the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The first mission of the ExoMars program consisted of a Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and an Entry, Descent, and Landing Demonstrator Module (EDM), later renamed the Schiaparelli capsule. The orbiter and Schiaparelli capsule were launched on a Proton rocket provided by Russia and traveled to Mars in a mated configuration, reaching the Red Planet in October 2016. Three days before reaching the atmosphere of Mars, the EDM was ejected from the orbiter. The EDM capsule then coasted toward its destination, entering the Martian atmosphere and landing on the surface of the planet. However, conflicting information in the onboard computer on the Schiaparelli module caused the lander to release its parachute too soon and crash onto the surface.

The ExoMars orbiter; however, is still performing detailed, remote observations of the Martian atmosphere, searching for evidence of gases of possible biological importance, such as methane and its degradation products.

The ExoMars rover, now named Rosalind Franklin, has suffered delays but the War in Ukraine strained relations to the point that in mid-2022, ESA announced the end of cooperation with Roscosmos. Roscosmos was originally planned to provide the landing platform and launch vehicle (Proton) for the mission. The landing system will now be provided by Thales Alenia Space and NASA providing some components and the launch vehicle for the mission.

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the ExoMars rover mission has been in doubt. The rover itself has been completed for some time. It would have been a shame to the scientific community to have a completed rover here on Earth that did not have a ride to Mars. With NASA and Thales, the mission can begin to take shape again. Launch will occur in 2028 with landing in 2030.