Why did Russia and Europe suddenly postpone joint Mars alien-hunting mission ExoMars?

Officials from Europe and Russia's space agencies confirmed that the launch of the ExoMars mission has been postponed

Russia's space program Rocosmos State Corporation and the European Space Agency (ESA) confirmed that the launch of their joint mission to Mars has been postponed. The mission was delayed in order to provide the agencies with enough time to complete the necessary tests before the launch.

Dubbed as ExoMars, the joint mission by Russia and Europe was supposed to commence in July. According to the ESA and Rocosmos, one of the objectives of ExoMars is to find evidence of alien life on the Red Planet.

ExoMars Rover
An artist's impression of the ExoMars rover on the surface of Mars. ESA/ATG medialab

Hunting For Alien Life On Mars

For the mission, the ESA developed a new rover known as the Rosalind Franklin, an autonomous six-wheeled all-terrain vehicle named after the English chemist who pioneered in the study of the molecular structures of DNA.

To find life on Mars, the rover was equipped with a drill that spans about two metres long. According to the ESA, this drill will be used to collect samples from beneath the surface, where traces of microbial life are most likely to exist.

Details Of The ExoMars Launch

The Rosalin Franklin rover will be deployed on Mars through Roscosmos' Kazachok lander. This lander will depart Earth using Russia's Proton-M rocket. Although both the ESA and Roscosmos appear to be ready for a launch this year, the two agencies recently revealed that it would need to carry out further tests on the spacecraft and other equipment that would be used for the mission.

Delaying The Mission

Through an official statement, director-general Jan Wörner of the ESA and director general Dmitry Rogozin of Roscosmos confirmed that the agencies have decided to postpone the launch of the mission to October 2022. According to the officials, delaying the project would provide the agencies with enough time to carry out important tests.

"We have made a difficult but well-weighted decision to postpone the launch to 2022," 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." In line with Rogozin's statement, Wörner noted that postponing the launch would ensure the safety of the mission.