May 5, 2009

NASA creates new ESA alliances

The U.S. space agency says it's selected two science projects to examine Mars and Mercury, as well as creating new alliances with the European Space Agency.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration said the projects, valued at approximately $38 million, will aid in the interior examination of Mars and probe the atmosphere of Mercury.

The Lander Radio-Science on ExoMars, known as the LaRa mission, will use NASA's Deep Space Network of radio telescopes to track part of the ESA's ExoMars mission. Scheduled for launch in 2016, the mission consists of a fixed lander and a rover that will roam Mars collecting soil samples for detailed analysis.

Data relayed from the lander back to the network will allow scientists to, among other things, examine the structure of the Red Planet's interior, including the size of its core. William Folkner of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., is the principal investigator of the $6.6 million project.

The second selection, named Strofio, will employ a unique mass spectrometer to reveal the composition of Mercury's atmosphere. Strofio will be a part of the Italian Space Agency's suite of science instruments that will fly aboard ESA's BepiColombo mission in 2013. Stefano Livi of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio is the principal investigator of the $31.8 million project.