EUROPE'S Mars rover is unlikely to launch before 2028, according to one of the project's top officials.
The European Space Agency's Jorge Vago revealed Tuesday that the space agency was struggling to get the ExoMars mission back on track after ending its cooperation with Russia.
ExoMars was due to launch on a Russian rocket later this year but was pushed back as a result of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.
The ESA announced in March that it would be impossible to continue cooperating with Russia on the mission.
That means the space agency has to find a new launch vehicle as well as a landing platform.
ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher said at the time that the mission would be pushed back to 2026.
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Speaking at a May 3 Nasa meeting, Vago, ExoMars project scientist at ESA, poured cold water over the ambitious 2026 date.
"It is theoretically possible, but in practice we think it would be very difficult to reconfigure ourselves and produce our own lander for 2026," he said.
"Realistically, we would be looking at a launch in 2028."
ExoMars is a European project to explore the surface of the Red Planet for signs of past or present life.
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Its primary mission will be driven by a six-wheeled rover designed and built by Airbus Defence and Space in Stevenage, U.K.
A drill loaded onto the rover will dig up to two metres below the Martian surface to collect samples.
They'll be analysed on-board the rover and the results sent to Earth.
Russia has said that it will start work on its own Mars mission given that ESA has suspended the joint project.
In response to sanctions, Roscosmos has already suspended cooperation with Europe on space launches.
The Russian space agency has also announced it would stop supplying rocket engines to the United States.
Earlier this month, ESA also ended cooperation with Russia on three missions to the Moon.
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ESA said it would "discontinue cooperative activities" on Luna-25, 26 and 27, a series of Russian lunar missions on which the European agency had aimed to test new equipment and technology.
"As with ExoMars, the Russian aggression against Ukraine and the resulting sanctions put in place represent a fundamental change of circumstances and make it impossible for ESA to implement the planned lunar cooperation," ESA said in a statement.
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