France Pushes to Downsize European Mars Rover
A mock-up of the European Space Agency's planned ExoMars rover.
PARIS - Europe's planned lander and rover mission to Mars in 2016 should be substantially cut back to fit within its likely budget constraints, and the downsizing should occur as soon as possible, officials from the French space agency, CNES, said Jan. 28.
They said that while the cuts will be painful for everyone, it's better to redesign the mission now rather than risk cost overruns and possible program delays later on.
Addressing a press briefing here, CNES's deputy director for science, Richard Bonneville, said French support of the mission, called ExoMars, remains solid. But he said as currently designed, ExoMars will not fit into the budget likely to be approved by European Space Agency (ESA) governments when they meet late this year to review a fresh program proposal.
"I fear that it will not be possible" to build ExoMars as it is currently planned, Bonneville said.
Meeting last November, ESA governments, as expected, refused to endorse a proposal to spend 1.2 billion euros ($1.6 billion) on ExoMars. In an informal survey of support, these nations - led by Italy, France, Germany and Britain - said they could spend about 850 million euros.
ESA was ordered to look for ways to reduce the size of ExoMars and, above all, to seek international cooperation - from Russia, the United States and elsewhere - in the amount of about 200 million euros. Key to that international participation would be a Russian Proton rocket, provided free of charge, to replace the 150 million euros or more ESA would need to spend for a European Ariane 5 vehicle.
France is ESA's biggest backer of Ariane 5 and in the past has lobbied ESA governments in favor of a rule forbidding the use of non-European rockets for European government missions. ESA has stopped short of adopting such a policy, but in 2005 its governments agreed that European vehicles should have an automatic preference.
Stephane Janichewski, CNES deputy director for policy, said in a Jan. 29 interview that France did not rule out the use of Russia's Proton vehicle for ExoMars if the decision was part of a broader program of science cooperation with Russia.
But Janichewski said even with the Proton vehicle and a future U.S. participation, it is doubtful that ESA governments will be able to fund a billion-euro version of ExoMars. He said it would be more prudent to make the program cuts now than to take the risk of missing the 2016 launch window.
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