Space: Europe plays into the hands of the US and the Russians

Published on July 25, 2022


On July 14, the European Space Agency (ESA) put a final end to its cooperation with Moscow. This is another stupid political decision in a field, science, where politics should not interfere.

Cooperation between ESA and Russia had already been suspended since Russia entered the war against Ukraine. This new decision based on the continuation of the fighting in Ukraine greatly annoys Russia, but it is also a very bad blow for European activity in space.

In this context, it should be recalled that ESA was to launch its robotic Mars exploration mission “ExoMars” with a Russian rocket during the launch window of July 2020. This mission, planned from the year 2000, had been listed in 2005 as a main mission of ESA’s Aurora -exploration program. It was actually very important, both scientifically (deep drilling into the ground to access the non-irradiated zone and maybe traces of life) and technologically (operating a rover on the surface, which would have been new for ESA). Due to the uncertainty about the ability of parachutes to ensure the landing on Mars and especially the covid pandemic, it had been postponed until September 2022. NB: I remind you that rocket departures to Mars cannot only take place every 26 months due to the planets moving at different speeds in different lanes.

In retaliation, Russia banned ESA from using the new “ERA” robotic arm it supplied to the International Space Station (ISS), which could have been used for maintenance operations on European modules.

At the same time, NASA and Roscosmos (the Russian space agency) decided on July 15 to continue cooperation in transporting crews and equipment to and from the ISS.

The Europeans are shooting themselves in the foot again, for nothing

I recall that ESA had originally planned (contracted) in 2008 to work with NASA for this mission, but that in 2011 NASA backed out, citing the additional cost of the Webb telescope. I write pretend because NASA has since done many other missions besides completing and launching the Webb telescope, and it didn’t really want to find itself a helper to the Europeans.

In 2012, ESA had turned to another partner. The reason was cost spreading. But one wonders if it was very serious to choose Russia as a partner to launch and land the rover, since just the year before that country had demonstrated the decline in its technological level by failing in the interplanetary injection to Mars of their Phobos-Grunt mission. This failure came after the commissioning of Beagle 2 on the ground in 2003 and before it missed the landing of Schiaparelli in 2016. One really wonders if in all this time ESA could not have tried to carry out launches and attempt landings on its own with her. Ariane 6. It couldn’t have been worse.

But finally since the Russian partner had been chosen, why not continue when there was nothing missing to begin with?! The consequence is very serious. The rover (named Rosalind Franklin, after a British biochemist, presumably to be in the feminist fashion of the day) is ready. He was ready to leave in July 2020, when he should have left in May 2018. He will therefore not leave in September 2022.

We must now find a new partner, and it can only necessarily be NASA. The configuration of the launcher has changed and the lander is different, it will also be necessary to change all kinds of attachments or interfaces between the rover and its carrier, and we are now only considering a launch in 2028. As a result, costs will continue and will continue to rise because the mission will not only have to be adapted to this new launch vehicle, but it will be necessary to negotiate with NASA, which will certainly take advantage of this situation, for example by requesting space for instruments that it has not been able to do not send earlier. During all this time, it is necessary to pay the teams that continue to manage the mission and maintain the rover, not counting those who had to manage the rover when it was operational on Mars. We had started from 690 million in 2006, we were at 1.2 billion in 2012, and we will undoubtedly be much higher in 2028.

All this time ESA, so mainly Europe, has spent a lot of money, busy scientists and engineers for nothing. Ultimately, it deprives the world’s scientific community, and above all its own, of an extraordinary scientific instrument for irrational reasons. It’s a bit of a punishment that kids can inflict on little friends who don’t like them. I believe that the thinking is extremely limited just like the one that led to the anti-Russian economic sanctions. The first to suffer are those who decide them. And the winner is the United States, which continues to conduct its space policy as it sees fit.

From start to finish, it is an organization of doodles where money means nothing.

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