Launch of ExoMars rover built in Stevenage delayed for two years to allow for more tests

PUBLISHED: 08:30 18 March 2020

The ExoMars rover underwent thermal testing in Toulouse, France, in February. Picture: Courtesy of Airbus

The ExoMars rover underwent thermal testing in Toulouse, France, in February. Picture: Courtesy of Airbus

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This summer’s launch of Europe’s first ever Mars rover, which has been built in Stevenage, has been postponed for two years because there is not enough time left to complete all the necessary tests.

Europe's first ever Mars rover was built in Stevenage. Picture Max Alexander.Europe's first ever Mars rover was built in Stevenage. Picture Max Alexander.

The European Space Agency’s ExoMars rover, which has been built at Airbus Defence and Space in Gunnels Wood Road, will be the first of its kind to drill up to two metres below the surface of Mars and determine if evidence of life is buried underground.

The rocket carrying the rover was due to launch from Russia in the summer and land on Mars in February, but the launch has now been delayed until 2022.

Experts have evaluated all the activities needed for an authorisation to launch and concluded that tests necessary to make all components of the spacecraft fit for the Mars adventure need more time to complete.

The new schedule foresees a launch between August and October 2022. Celestial mechanics define that only relatively short launch windows – 10 days every two years – exist in which Mars can be reached from Earth.

UK European Space Agency astronaut Tim Peake with the ExoMars rover at Airbus Defence and Space UK in Stevenage. Picture: DANNY LOOUK European Space Agency astronaut Tim Peake with the ExoMars rover at Airbus Defence and Space UK in Stevenage. Picture: DANNY LOO

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ESA’s director general Jan Wörner said: “We want to make ourselves 100 per cent sure of a successful mission.

“We cannot allow ourselves any margin of error. More verification activities will ensure a safe trip and the best scientific results on Mars.

“I want to thank the teams in the industry that have been working around the clock for nearly a year to complete assembly and environmental testing of the whole spacecraft. We are very much satisfied with the work that has gone into making a unique project a reality and we have a solid body of knowledge to complete the remaining work as quickly as possible.”

A spokesman for Airbus in Stevenage said: “We’re very disappointed this year’s planned launch of ExoMars will be postponed to 2022.

“Our teams at Airbus in Stevenage have spent more than 10 years designing, developing and assembling the rover, and they were all looking forward to launch this summer, along with the rest of their colleagues in Airbus across Europe and the world.

“But they all understand and appreciate that the decision has been taken in the best interests of the programme, to ensure a successful landing in 2023.”


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