March 14, 2013
Russia And ESA Finalize Cooperation On ExoMars Mission
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
The European Space Agency (ESA) and Russian federal space agency (Roscosmos) have finally signed a formal agreement to work together on the ExoMars program to determine whether life ever existed on Mars.
Under the partnership, ESA agreed to provide the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and the Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module (EDM) in 2016 as well as the carrier and rover in 2018. Roscosmos agreed to be responsible for the 2018 descent module and surface platform and to provide launchers for both missions.
ESA and Roscosmos will both supply scientific instruments and will cooperate closely in the scientific execution of the mission.
ExoMars will help pave the way for a sample-return mission, bringing Martian soil back to Earth for analysis.
TGO will be helping to search for evidence of methane and other atmospheric gases on Mars, and will also serve as a data relay for the 2018 mission. EDM, which will launch with TGO, will land on Mars during the 2016 mission to provide key technologies for the rover mission two years later.
The ExoMars rover will search the planet's surface for signs of life, past and present. It will be the first Mars rover to drill down over six-feet and collect samples that have been shielded from the harsh conditions on the surface. Roscosmos will provide a descent module to deliver the rover.
The ExoMars rover will feature a wide-angle and high-resolution camera system known as PanCam. The rover will also consist of a close-up imager, a ground-penetrating radar, a miniaturized infrared spectrometer, and a molecule detector.
“This is a momentous occasion for the ExoMars program that will see industry and scientists from Europe and Russia working together on these two exciting missions, which will develop new technologies that will demonstrate the competitiveness of European industry, be important for preparing a solid participation of ESA in future international exploration missions and address the key question of whether life ever arose on Mars,” says ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain.
Vladimir Popovkin, Head of Roscosmos, said the ExoMars program will become the second largest project after Soyuz in Kourou.
“It confirms again that projects of such tremendous scale have to be implemented through international cooperation," Popovkin said. "The scientific data that we are going to obtain during all the planned missions are important for the worldwide community.”
NASA will provide some scientific instruments for the ExoMars mission as well, including the Electra UHF radio package for TGO and the Mars Proximity Link telecom to EDM.
The US withdrew from playing a critical role in the ExoMars mission back in February last year when NASA's planetary science budget was slashed by 21 percent. The European agency made an agreement with its Russian counterpart when Roscosmos agreed to fill the gap left by NASA's departure from the mission. Although the parameters for their agreement were set late last year, the agencies announced on Thursday that the formal agreement is officially signed.