The European Space Agency’s Director General Jan Woerner said he had spoken to Russia’s Roscosmos during MAKS-2019 to ensure all issues on the joint ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars-2020 mission were solved and it could be launched in mid-2020 as planned.
The robotic exploration mission tests have revealed some parachute problems with further tests campaigns scheduled to take place this year.
“We have some other issues, we are looking forward to solving very soon, so we had yesterday a long discussion with Roscosmos, with our partners so [as] to make sure that on the European as well on the Russian side all problems will be solved, and that we can still remain with the launch date in the middle of next year,” Woerner said.
He did not provide any details on when exactly between July 25 and August 13 the launch might take place.
"Right now, we are just looking to have this window used for a launch, because otherwise, we have to delay for another two years because of the different orbits of Earth and Mars. We are doing whatever we can to be successful in the middle of next year”, Woerner said.
The ESA chief added that a failed test was “not a catastrophe.”
“It’s part of the game, otherwise you would not do any test. We will have some more tests this year. We are now looking into the details of the failure that we had -- was it mechanical failure, structural failure, was something not correctly packed. But we have some time to solve it. It must be done before the launch, not after the launch, and we have some time before the launch,” Woerner said.
Russia’s Soyuz Spacecraft Use
The European Space Agency (ESA) may go back to using Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft if a good barter deal is reached with Moscow, Woerner said.
“Maybe, if we find a good agreement with the Russian side on the basis of a barter. It is also possible that the Americans will still use Soyuz for one or another reason”, Woerner said, when asked if ESA would go back to using Soyuz.
“For the amount and value of this hardware, NASA gives us seats for astronaut flights. In the past they gave us seats in the shuttle, later on the shuttle was retired, so the Americans flew with Soyuz”, Woerner said.
As of today, NASA pays money to Russia for the Soyuz seats, and ESA gets seats onboard the Soyuz spacecraft in exchange for hardware delivered to NASA.
“This is now coming to an end and that means in future, if we do barter with the Americans, they will most probably offer us seats in the American spaceship. But there is nothing against having a similar agreement with Russia. The only thing the member states of ESA do not like is to pay in cash for such seats, they would like to have industrial developments and therefore, I mentioned yesterday to Roscosmos, let’s have a discussion about that as well”, ESA Director General said.
France's Space Command Plans
The European Space Agency (ESA) is “exclusively peaceful” and does not participate in military activities, such as national space commands, Jan Woerner said, commenting on France’s plan to launch such a unit.
“In the ESA convention, it says that we have to work for exclusively peaceful purposes. And therefore, we are not participating in this type of activities, this is a national activity, as we see it in several countries: in the United States, in France and some other countries as well”, Woerner said.
The ESA chief remarked that the organisation was “also looking for security and safety.”
"But again, exclusively peaceful purposes and we are not building up any space force”, Woerner said.
French President Emmanuel Macron said in July he had approved the establishment of a space force. US President Donald Trump has also proposed setting up a space force. In February, Trump signed an order entrusting all military space functions to a Space Force, which acts under the Department of the Air Force.