Europe's Mars Life-Detection Mission Postponed

ExoMars Rover prototype demonstration 2010
Engineers demonstrate an ExoMars Rover prototype a 2010 ExoMars Industry Day 010 in Turin, Italy. (Image credit: Thales Alenia Space-Italy)

Europe and Russia are delaying launch of their ExoMars life-scouting rover mission to Mars from 2018 to 2020, the next time Earth and Mars are best aligned for interplanetary flight.

"Russian and European experts made their best efforts to meet the 2018 launch schedule for the mission," the European Space Agency said in a statement Monday.

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But a panel investigating options for overcoming delays, concluded that rescheduling for July 2020 "would be the best solution."

Program managers agreed and have asked project teams to coordinate with industry contractors and develop new schedules.

"Additional measures will also be taken to maintain close control over the activities on both sides up to launch," the statement said.

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The delay means that the ExoMars mission, which will search for present-day or past life on Mars, will be launching during the same period as NASA's Mars2020, a follow-on mission to the ongoing Curiosity rover. In addition to assessing Mars' habitability, the NASA mission will gather samples for an eventual return to Mars.

In December, problems with a French-built science instrument for InSight, another NASA Mars mission, forced the probe to miss its March 2016 launch opportunity. That flight has now been retargeted for 2018.

Originally published on Discovery News.

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Irene Klotz
Contributing Writer

Irene Klotz is a founding member and long-time contributor to She concurrently spent 25 years as a wire service reporter and freelance writer, specializing in space exploration, planetary science, astronomy and the search for life beyond Earth. A graduate of Northwestern University, Irene currently serves as Space Editor for Aviation Week & Space Technology.