Reuters International

The Proton-M rocket, carrying the ExoMars 2016 spacecraft to Mars, blasts off from the launchpad at the Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, March 14, 2016. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov


MOSCOW (Reuters) - The second stage of a joint European-Russian mission to search for signs of life on Mars has been delayed from 2018 to 2020, the European Space Agency and Russia's Roscosmos said on Monday.

The new planned launch date for the second ExoMars mission was July 2020, Interfax news agency cited state-run Roscosmos as saying.

It will incorporate a Russian-led surface platform and European-led rover, to be launched from the Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan.

The decision to put back the launch was a joint one that took into account delays in European and Russian industrial activities, the European agency said in a statement.

A spacecraft left Baikonur in March in the first stage of the programme.

It carried an atmospheric probe that is to study trace gases such as methane -- a chemical that on Earth is strongly tied to life - that previous Mars missions have detected in the planet's atmosphere. The craft is due to arrive in October.

The second-stage rover is meant to be the first with the ability to both move across Mars' surface and drill into the ground to collect and analyse samples.

Roscosmos was not available for comment on Monday, a public holiday in Russia.

(Reporting by Alexander Winning and Scot Stevenson; Editing by Alison Williams and John Stonestreet)


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