October 16, 2011
Russia Asked To Join Joint ESA, NASA Mars Mission
The European Space Agency (ESA) has formally invited Russia to participate in a pair of space missions in 2016 and 2018, various media outlets reported late last week.
According to Space News reporter Peter B. de Selding, ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain confirmed on Thursday that the organization had written to ask Roscosmos, the country's national space agency, to join the ExoMars project as a third partner alongside the ESA and NASA.
The agency is hoping that Roscosmos will be able to provide a Proton rocket that will launch "a European-built Mars telecommunications orbiter and an entry, descent and landing system in 2016," de Selding said.
NASA was originally set to provide an Atlas 5 rocket for the rover's launch, but in recent weeks has said that they cannot commit to the scheduled 2016 launch due to budget constraints.
De Selding says that the move is "a last-ditch attempt to save the project from being cut in half" due to funding issues, adding that Dordain said during an interview that it could be the group's only hope of salvaging the project.
"If Russia can be persuaded to provide a rocket to launch the 2016 satellite, it should make both atmospheric and surface ventures financially feasible," BBC News Science Correspondent Jonathan Amos wrote in a Friday article.
However, he adds that Roscosmos' participation could depend on the degree to which they are involved with the project. Specifically, Amos says that they would likely seek "the opportunity to provide instrumentation and technology for the missions, and for its researchers to be included in the science teams."
All three parties have set a January deadline to work out a deal.
According to de Selding, the ESA has budgeted $1.35 billion for a two-launch mission, but has only been able to secure about 85% of those funds to date. As such, the 2016 launch could be scrapped, with the project focus turning to one launch -- the 2018 one -- and cutting an ESA-provides telecommunications orbiter and entry-descent-landing system from the ExoMars mission.
Furthermore, Dordain reportedly met with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden during the International Astronautical Congress in Cape Town, South Africa, held the week of October 13, and came away with the impression that NASA still intended to provide an Atlas 5 for the scheduled 2018 mission, despite the unclear funding future of the American space administration.
“At this point I am becoming a Doubting Thomas in that I believe only what I can see,” Dordain said, according to Space News. “But NASA has said nothing that would lead me to believe the 2018 mission is not going forward. At this point I have only two options: Keep the mission as we would like it by finding an additional partner, or reduce the mission.”
Image Caption: The ExoMars Trace Gas and Data Relay Orbiter, along with an Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module (EDM), form the first mission in the ESA-NASA ExoMars Programme. Credit: ESA
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