Since the start of the Ukraine criss, the United States and Russia have exchanged space-related sanctions and other measures in recent weeks. Canada, meanwhile, pulled several small satellites that were scheduled to launch in June on a Soyuz. (Russia has subsequently delayed the overall launch for “organizational reasons.”)
Europe has not followed, though, in part because of its closer ties with Russia’s space program, such as the joint ExoMars program that features a 2016 orbiter mission and a 2018 rover mission. Speaking at the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG) meeting in Washington on Tuesday, Rolf de Groot of the European Space Agency said that, so far, the crisis has not affected that cooperation. “Our member states have not instructed us to tone down on our cooperation with Russia,” he said. “It might obviously be different if the European Commission started intervening in this process, but for now, there’s no pressure.”
However, US-Russia actions are having an effect on the 2016 orbiter, he said. The State Department is reviewing all export licenses to Russia, which has the potential to delay the mission’s US-provided components, a complication for a mission that currently has limited slack in its schedule. “The effects of this on ExoMars are still to be determined,” he said, adding that ESA is working with NASA’s international relations office to convince the State Department to approve the license. “This needs to be resolved within a few weeks because that’s all the margin we still have in the schedule. We hope that with a little bit of help from NASA, we can find a solution for the 2016 mission.”
Ironically, this became an issue only because of NASA’s decision in 2012 to terminate its original partnership with ESA on ExoMars. That forced ESA to turn to Russia to become a partner on the mission.