The European Space Agency and Russia's Roscosmos said they are postponing a planned joint mission to Mars until 2022, in part due to travel restrictions resulting from the new coronavirus outbreak.
The ExoMars mission was due to launch this year but concerns about possible technical problems had already prompted both agencies to discuss the delay.
“We want to make ourselves 100 percent sure of a successful mission,” European Space Agency Director General Jan Woerner said in a statement. ”We cannot allow ourselves any margin of error. More verification activities will ensure a safe trip and the best scientific results on Mars."
Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Roscosmos, said the delay was primarily due to technical problems, compounded by the coronavirus outbreak, "which left our experts practically no possibility to proceed with travels to partner industries.”
The mission's goal is to put a rover on the red planet to help determine whether there has ever been life on Mars. Scientists hope the rover, packed with high-tech instruments and named after British chemist Rosalind Franklin, will be able to dig for biological signatures of life below the martian surface and also provide further insights into the planet's history of water.