A joint mission by Europe and Russia to send a rover to Mars has been postponed by two years, in part because of the coronavirus outbreak.
The European Space Agency and Russia's Roscosmos announced this week that they are delaying the mission until 2022. The rover had been planned to be launched in July or August of this year.
Officials at the space agencies said travel restrictions due to the coronavirus as well as multiple technical issues prompted the delay. They said concerns about possible technical problems had already caused them to discuss a potential delay, and said coronavirus restrictions further exacerbated the situation.“
We want to make ourselves 100% sure of a successful mission,'' European Space Agency Director General Jan Woerner said in a statement.
The mission’s goal is to put a rover on the Red Planet to continue the search for past life there. It is to be the first rover to search for signs of life at depths of up to two meters below the Martian surface.
The European Space agency is designing the rover, named after British chemist Rosalind Franklin who is known for his work on DNA. Russia is providing the launcher, the descent module and the landing platform for the mission, known as ExoMars.
Launching spacecraft to Mars can only be done every two years, to take advantage of a favorable lineup between Earth and the Red Planet.