The joint Russian-European mission to Mars has been postponed for two years, world space agencies said, citing a new coronavirus and technical problems. The ExoMars unmanned mission, the main task of which was to search for evidence of the existence of extraterrestrial life on Mars in the distant past of the planet, was planned to be launched in July 2020, but due to the instability of the global situation, the research apparatus can only reach the surface of the Red Planet in July 2023. How can coronavirus interfere with scientific programs?
Why is coronavirus to blame for canceling ExoMars?
The coronavirus epidemic and associated panic sentiment caused a significant time delay in starting the ExoMars apparatus. Such a difficult decision was made by the leadership of Roscosmos, in particular the famous politician Dmitry Rogozin, who noted that further tests of the spacecraft will continue in August or September 2022.
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The delay in the ExoMars unmanned mission is not the first time. So, the mission, originally developed only by the European Space Agency, was aimed at launching the rover back in 2011. However, shortly after the start of program development, the ExoMars mission was suspended for several years until the program was merged with other projects. After the mission was divided into two separate launches, the project was again frozen indefinitely. One of the reasons that influenced the revision of the ExoMars program at the end of the first decade of the 21st century was the limitation of Italy's financial contribution to the development of the project.
After several unsuccessful launch attempts, Roskosmos and ESA decided to restore the program by signing a cooperation agreement, under which both agencies were to develop the Russian Phobos-Soil project and the European ExoMars, whose main tasks remained to find possible traces of the past Martian life and study of the details of the surface of the fourth planet from the Sun.
Having barely resolved a number of technical problems that arose during the design of the mission, the leadership of both space agencies faced a new problem – the coronavirus, which became the main cause of the difficult epidemiological situation in the world, sciencealert.com claims. So, according to Jan Werner, ESA’s Director General, at present, specialists involved in the development of an ambitious project have practically no opportunity to visit their foreign colleagues due to a significant limitation of transport accessibility between European countries. In addition, the fact of incomplete readiness of the spacecraft components affected the transfer of the Russian-European mission. According to experts, additional tests should ensure the safest travel of the spacecraft and the best results of the device on Mars.
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The coronavirus epidemic has become one of the most talked about topics on the network and beyond since the end of 2019. In addition to the transfer of the ExoMars space mission, the infection caused the cancellation of a number of mass events around the world, ranging from UN meetings to the quarantine of several Italian provinces.