Russia will send another sample mission to the Martian moon Phobos if the European Space Agency (ESA) decides not to include Russia in its ExoMars program, the head of Russia’s space agency said on Tuesday.
Phobos-Grunt, Russia's most ambitious planetary mission in decades, was launched on November 9, however, it was lost due to propulsion failure and fell back to Earth on January 15.
"We are holding consultations with the ESA about Russia’s participation in the ExoMars project… If no deal is reached, we will repeat the attempt [to launch a Phobos mission],” Roscosmos chief Vladimir Popovkin said.
During the ExoMars mission, ESA plans to send an orbital spacecraft, ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, to Mars in 2016 and a robot rover two years later. The rover will be able to cover several km in search of possible past and present signs of life, take samples from the surface and dig to the depth of two meters (six feet).
The ExoMars program was run jointly by NASA and ESA but the U.S. space agency later said it would cut its participation in the project and will not provide its Atlas carrier for the launch.
Russia said it could provide a Proton rocket to launch a European-led Mars telecommunications orbiter and a set of European and Russian sensors in 2016 in exchange for full membership in the exploration project.
Roscosmos and ESA are to discuss the details of Russia’s participation in the project in February.