June 30, 2011

NASA Delay In Joint Mars Mission With ESA

NASA and the European Space Agency's plans to have a joint mission to Mars faced another snag this week.

A letter from NASA formally committing to combined ventures to Mars this decade was expected to arrive in Paris this week, but it has not, according to BBC News.

The plan was to start the next phase of building an orbiter to hunt for methane in Mars' atmosphere.

The U.S. space agency delaying its commitment is said to be due to NASA's difficulty in organizing its finances for the multi-billion-dollar ventures, which also includes a big rover to search for traces of life.

ESA's Industrial Policy Committee was expected to release industry to begin work on cutting metal on flight hardware this week.  However, discussions on the subject will now take a different shape because the letter from NASA has yet to come about.

According to the plans, the ExoMars project will send an orbiter to track down the sources of methane and other trace gases recently detected in Mars' atmosphere in 2016.

The agencies then plan to send their large rover to Mars in 2018.

The 2016 satellite would act as the surface vehicle's data-relay station to get its pictures and other information back to Earth.

Industry says the timetable for construction is tight if launch dates are to be met.

The ExoMars project was originally approved as a concept by ESA ministers in 2005, but then went through several iterations as scientists and engineers struggled to match their ambitions for the project to the funds available.


Image Caption: Artist's impression of the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter Credits: ESA


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