Space agencies in Europe and Russia have sadly announced that their next mission to the surface of Mars with a rover will be delayed by two years, from 2018 to 2020. The rover is to be part of a two-pronged ExoMars mission by the European Space Agency and Roscosmos. The first stage has already been successfully launched into space. That mission is actually made up of two robotic probes — the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and the Schiaparelli entry, descent and landing demonstrator. The second launch, however, is destined to put a full-size rover on the surface of the Red Planet, capable of drilling 2m down into the Martian crust.
The BBC reports, however, that both Russian and European engineers have struggled to keep to the project's schedule. Sadly, missing the 2018 launch date requires waiting for the next instance of favourable planetary alignment, which means waiting for 26 months.
Rolf de Groot, head of ESA's Robotic Exploration Coordination Office, explained to the BBC:
What we have been doing lately is seeing if we could shorten the assembly, integration and testing (AIT) phase to something that would be acceptable from a risk point of view, but still make the 2018 launch.
Very recently, we have concluded that this is not possible without adding a large amount of additional risk to an already risky mission. So, we decided the only responsible thing to do was move to the 2020 launch date.
The project has seen many setbacks since its approval in 2005. What started as a modest demonstration mission became a full-blown exploration of Mars, which introduced its own delays. Since, it's struggled for money, too, with both NASA and Roscosmos helping out at various stages of the project.
Hopefully the 2020 launch will go ahead.