NASA aiding in the European Mars rover launch debacle.

A visual representation of the Rosalind Franklin rover on Mars.
A visual representation of the Rosalind Franklin rover on Mars.

Europe’s unfortunate Mars rover, named Rosalind Franklin, has received a boost thanks to a new collaboration agreement with NASA. The European Space Agency (ESA) had previously allied with Russian space agency Roscosmos on the rover project, but that was halted after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Now, NASA has officially agreed to provide launch services and components of the landing propulsion system for the mission, targeting a launch in 2028.

Part of Europe’s ExoMars initiative, the rover was initially set to launch in 2020, but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the absence of Russia as a partner, ESA was exploring launch alternatives to transport the rover to Mars, while also developing its own lander. With NASA’s support, the project now seems back on course for a Mars expedition.

“This significant agreement strengthens our cooperative efforts for the ExoMars program and ensures that the Rosalind Franklin rover will touch down on Martian terrain in 2030,” expressed Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA’s Director of Human and Robotic Exploration, in a statement. “Together, we are embarking on new explorations to unravel the enigmas of Mars. We showcase our dedication to pioneering space missions and broadening human understanding.”

In addition to launch services, an American commercial launch partner is collaborating on the rover transport, NASA will also supply a portion of the heating system for the rover. This will complement NASA’s own Curiosity and Perseverance rovers, as Rosalind Franklin will excavate deeper into the Martian surface, reaching depths of up to 2 meters (6.5 feet). It will be capable of collecting subsurface samples, including subterranean ice.

“The unique drilling capabilities and on-board samples laboratory of the Rosalind Franklin rover hold significant scientific importance for humanity’s quest for traces of ancient life on Mars,” remarked Nicola Fox, associate administrator, Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. “NASA fully supports the Rosalind Franklin mission to sustain the strong alliance between the United States and Europe in exploring the unknown within our solar system and beyond.”

The primary instrument on the rover will be the Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer, a device constructed by the German and French space agencies, geared towards identifying organic molecules – the basic components of life – within the samples.

Presently, engineers working on the rover program are progressing towards a review this summer to ensure that the system aligns with the requirements before commencing preparations for the launch.

Evan Brooks

Evan is a seasoned reporter with an insatiable curiosity for the latest gadgets and breakthroughs in science and tech.

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