After successful launch of TGO and EDM Schiaparelli on atop of Proton-M on 14 March 2016, first problems appeared in the cooperation between Roscosmos and ESA. Scheduled for 2018 launch of Mars lander developed under ExoMars program could be delayed to 2020.
It seems that after celebrating successful launch, time for hard work came. It was truly milestone for ExoMars program since signing agreement between ESA and Roscosmos in 2013. Unfortunately it seems that objective of program – sending lander with robotic vehicle for Mars research is not as close as both ESA and Roscosmos would like to be. According to Tass news agency, Roscosmos is considering postponing mission of the Mars lander from 2018 to 2020. It was confirmed by chief of Roscosmos Corporation, Igor Komarov on 13 March 2016. He said in interview given to Tass but it seems that ESA was not informed directly yet:
“The issue of the mission’s possible postponement to 2020 is being discussed but the final decision has not yet been taken… It is the project’s phase two and we are not yet through with its discussion with the European Space Agency,”
What could be a problem which appeared just before joint success with first milestone of ExoMars? We can only assume about reasons of problems inside the Roscosmos. According to agreement from 2013, lander which would be send in May, 2018 (now 2020) was planned as joint project between Russian Lavochkin Aerospace Company and ESA with percent participation accordingly: 80% (Russia) to 20% (Europe). Lander general concept was given to public on January 2014 by Viktor Khartov, general director of the Lavochkin. During 38th Academic Space Exploration Readings he gave only little details about lander:
“We are creating a two-ton landing module for this mission. It will transport a 3,000-kilogram European rover to the surface of Mars,”
ESA role was providing avionics, radar and navigation systems, Roscosmos declared to build rest of lander and develop general conception of landing. Lavochkin also proposed to equip lander with two parachutes – first for reducing speed from supersonic and second to slow down enough for safety touchdown. Heat shield would be jettisoned and Mars rover will be deployed from special capsule remaining inside lander. Until now progress in development of lander is not known, but Lavochkin seems to have delay and will not manage to finish lander and start integrating systems provided by ESA. In spite of ExoMars, Lavochkin is also responsible for Moon lander project which was planned to start in 2016 but it was postponed to 2021 (Luna-25 and Luna-26 Moon probes). As it is seen NPO Lavochkin is burdened with many projects and probably with not enough money. Also earlier successful mission to Moon would give engineers from Lavochkin priceless experience due future designing Mars lander. Now it seems that they will be force to solve many problems for the first time during ExoMars what for sure makes it significantly harder and more time-consuming. Roscosmos is also still in trouble with shrinking budget which also is a problem. Maybe this time Russian statement about postponing ExoMars is only gentle pressure to ESA for extended financial help during developing Mars lander. It would surely give Roscosmos and Lavochkin support also during their future Moon lander which probably will be developed after creating Mars lander under ExoMars.
On picture above: Mars picture taken from ESA Mars Express probe.