October 12, 2009

ESA Delegates Seek US Partnership For Mars Program

European states have agreed to replace a 2016 space probe mission to Mars with a smaller orbiting satellite and a small static lander.

BBC News reported Monday that the member states to the European Space Agency agreed to delay the ExoMars rover mission to 2018 due to budget constraints.

Last November, each member state pledged 850 million euros ($1.25B USD) to the ExoMars project. However, this figure was deemed to be less than enough to carry out the mission's objectives.

ESA officials sought the assistance of the US, in hopes of sharing costs in a joint mission to Mars.

According to BBC, it is ESA's intention "that all Mars missions from 2016 onwards will now be badged as joint US-European ventures."

The 2016 mission will be smaller in scope, with deployment of a smaller orbiting satellite as well as a static lander that would seek out traces of methane and other gases.

Each member state has reportedly agreed in principle to the new idea, however full approval will not come until the total cost is determined at the end of the year.

The council hopes that the costs of the mission will not increase above one billion euros.

The ExoMars mission includes the development of a Mars orbiter, a descent module and a Mars rover, the ESA said.

"The two-mission scenario is accepted by all and the long-term cooperation with the US is welcomed. For ExoMars, we have got an agreed technical basis that should work for everybody. For me, resource is now the fundamental issue," Professor David Southwood, ESA's director of science and robotics, told BBC.


Image Caption: Artist's impression of the ExoMars rover drilling into the Martian surface. Credits: ESA - AOES Medialab


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