The European Space Agency has officially ended cooperation with Russia on a mission to land a rover on Mars, prompting Russia’s space chief to retaliate by prohibiting cosmonauts on the International Space Station from using a European-made robotic arm.
Due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the ESA had previously suspended ties on the joint ExoMars mission, which had planned to use Russian rockets to place Europe’s Rosalind Franklin rover on Mars to drill for signs of life.
On Tuesday, ESA Director-General Josef Aschbacher tweeted that because the war and its consequences “continue to prevail,” the agency would “officially terminate” its collaboration with Russia on ExoMars and its landing platform.
Dmitry Rogozin, the fiery head of Russia’s space agency Roscosmos, responded angrily.
“Has the head of the European Space Agency considered the work of thousands of scientists and engineers in Europe and Russia that this decision has ended? Is he prepared to answer for sabotaging a joint Mars mission?” Rogozin asked on Telegram.
“I, in turn, direct our ISS crew to cease working with the European manipulator ERA,” he added.
The European Robotic Arm (ERA), which was installed just a few months ago, is one of three such robots on the International Space Station, but it is the only one that can reach the Russian segment.
According to the ESA website, the 11-metre-long robot, which resembles a pair of compasses, assists in moving payloads inside and outside the ISS and can transport spacewalkers “like a cherry-picker crane.”
The ExoMars launch had already been postponed due to the pandemic in 2020, and plans for a September launch this year were cancelled due to the war in March.
Aschbacher stated last month that he is in “intense discussions” with NASA to send the rover to Mars, adding that he is “very confident that we will find a good partnership.”