ESA Council approves new plans for Mars Robotic Exploration Programme
16 October 2009ESA Member States have provisionally agreed to plans for ESA's role in an international Mars Robotic Exploration Programme. The decision, taken at a recent ESA Council meeting, foresees a Mars Orbiter with a small static lander, to launch in 2016, and the change of launch date for the ExoMars Rover mission.
The current ESA/NASA ExoMars mission contains two main elements: an orbiter, which would characterise atmospheric trace gases of possible biological importance and provide data relay services to surface-based missions up to 2022, and a rover, which would carry a suite of analytical instruments dedicated to exobiology and geochemistry research. The orbiter would launch in 2016, while the rover launch would be two years later.
An assessment of the costs of this new configuration will be presented to Council, for their approval, by the end of the year.
Europe and NASA began discussions in December 2008 after the ESA Ministerial Council recommended that international cooperation be sought in order to share science, technologies and costs for ambitious Mars robotic exploration missions.
An agreement to create a Mars Exploration Joint Initiative (MEJI) was the outcome of the bilateral meeting between ESA and NASA held in Plymouth in June this year.
An outcome of this agreement is that the long-term Mars Robotic Exploration Programme, starting in 2016, will be a joint ESA-NASA venture. The goal of the Programme is to investigate the Martian environment and to demonstrate new technologies paving the way for a future Mars sample return mission in the 2020's.