The launch of Europe's first ever Mars rover - built in Stevenage - has been suspended because of the war in Ukraine and the involvement of Russian space agency Roscosmos.

Teams at Airbus Defence and Space in Gunnels Wood Road have spent more than 10 years designing, developing and assembling the European Space Agency's ExoMars rover, which had been due to launch in September and land on the Red Planet in June 2023.

However, ESA's ruling council has met in Paris and unanimously decided to suspend the launch.

A spokesman said: "As an intergovernmental organisation mandated to develop and implement space programmes in full respect with European values, we deeply deplore the human casualties and tragic consequences of the aggression towards Ukraine.

"While recognising the impact on scientific exploration of space, ESA is fully aligned with the sanctions imposed on Russia by its member states.

"ESA’s ruling council met in Paris on March 16 and 17, assessed the situation arising from the war in Ukraine regarding ExoMars, and unanimously acknowledged the present impossibility of carrying out the ongoing cooperation with Roscosmos on the ExoMars rover mission with a launch in 2022, and mandated the ESA director general to take appropriate steps to suspend the cooperation activities accordingly.

"[The council also] authorised the ESA director general to carry out a fast-track industrial study to better define the available options for a way forward to implement the ExoMars rover mission."

Possible options could include looking for other partners who can provide the technologies Europe is missing - in particular, the US - or waiting until international relations and cooperation with Roscosmos can be restarted.

With only a short launch window – 10 days every two years – in which Mars can be reached from Earth, the earliest the ExoMars rover will now launch is 2024.

The rover will be the first of its kind to drill up to two metres below the surface of Mars and determine if evidence of life is buried underground.

The original 2020 launch date of the ExoMars rover was delayed after time ran out to complete vital testing, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.