ESA Commits $1.5 Billion To Fund Early ExoMars Work
PARIS European Space Agency (ESA) governments, led by Italy, have agreed to finance early work in 2008 on a $1.5-billion Mars rover mission that likely will feature participation by the United States and Russia but will not be definitively approved by ESA governments until November, according to European government officials.
The decision to spend 80 million euros ($117 million) in 2008 on the ExoMars mission will preserve ESA's ability to launch the rover package in 2013 by permitting the purchase of hardware needed now to meet the 2013 launch date, ExoMars project manager Don McCoy said Dec. 14.
In an interview, McCoy said the decision is a positive sign for ExoMars, but that the mission still faces key hurdles even before ESA ministers meet in November to approve the entire ExoMars financial package.
An industrial team led by Thales
This is the figure that ESA
governments will need to approve in November. Not included are the 22 science
instruments, most of which will be supplied by the national space agencies of
Daniel Sacotte, ESA's director of exploration programs, has raised concerns that these national agencies might not be able to furnish their instruments, raising the possibility that ESA ultimately will need to finance one or more of them from its own budget.
Taking a page from ESA's science directorate which has encountered the same problem in its missions ExoMars managers are preparing an Instrument Multilateral Agreement to be signed by ESA and by the national agencies taking part in the mission.
The agreement will not be a contract, but will carry the weight of a commitment on the part of these governments with respect to instrument specifications and delivery dates. McCoy said ESA hopes the document will be signed by all the participating agencies in early 2008 so that instrument work can begin. The document also will be another indicator as was the ExoMars 2008 funding allocation of 80 million euros that European governments remain supportive of the mission.
A much smaller version of ExoMars was approved by ESA governments in December 2005, with a budget set at 650 million euros. But this version was abandoned quickly when it became clear that its instrument package and rover, designed to be launched by a medium-lift Soyuz rocket, was too small to meet European scientists' expectations.
That led to the full program review, the new industrial proposal and the decision to cancel the original ExoMars in favor of the larger-scale project now moving forward.
ESA also intends to bring NASA and the Russian space agency, Roskosmos, into ExoMars as part of separate bilateral agreements.
McCoy said a draft letter of
agreement with NASA has been approved and now is making its way through the
The cooperation with
ESA is working on a broad
cooperation accord that would cover both ExoMars and
The intergovernmental agreement with Roskosmos also would include a possible launch of ExoMars aboard a Russian Proton rocket, and the purchase by ESA of Russian-built radioisotope heater units, which use plutonium to keep the rover instruments warm.
Roskosmos tentatively has agreed to
provide the technology for ExoMars, but ESA officials say they expect to have
to pay for the technology even if
McCoy said using
However, ExoMars' presumed launcher
The Italian Space Agency, ASI, has
agreed to finance around 40 percent of ExoMars, staking its claim as
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