ESA Approves Collaborative Mars Program with NASA

PARIS ? European Space Agency(ESA) governments on Dec. 17 gave final approval to a two-part Mars explorationprogram to be conducted with NASA, confirming their commitment to spend 850million euros ($1.23 billion) on missions in 2016 and 2018, ESA DirectorGeneral Jean-Jacques Dordain said.

ESA has estimated that it will need 1billion euros for what it calls the ExoMars mission, but that figure includesoperating the orbiter, lander and roverassociated with the mission. Dordain said the missing 150 million euros will besolicited during a meeting of ESA government ministers in late 2011 or early2012.

In an interview, Dordain said ESA, withits ExoMars hardware financing now firmed up, will spend the coming 12 monthsworking out the precise details of the two missions with NASA. By late 2010, hesaid, NASA and ESA should be ready to sign a final accord assigning each side?sroles and responsibilities.

ESA?s hardware will include a Marsorbiter and landerto be launched on a NASA-supplied Atlas 5 rocket in 2016, and a rover vehicleto be launched, also on a NASA-provided Atlas 5, in 2018.

Unlike some ESA programs, the ExoMarsfinancing will not include a 20 percent margin for cost overruns.

?We have agreed that this is 1 billioneuros and not one euro more,? Dordain said. ?If costs rise, it will require aunanimous approval by the participating nations.?

Dordain said ESA has divided the ExoMarspackage into four separate funding pools ? for the orbiter, the lander, therover and mission operations ? and that cost growth in one element will not befinanced by any of the others.

Several ESA governments had feared thatthe 2018 mission, whose development spending peak will occur after that of the2016 mission, would have its treasury raided should elements of the 2016mission incur cost overruns. Dordain said this could not occur given the wayExoMars development has been structured.

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Charles Q. Choi
Contributing Writer

Charles Q. Choi is a contributing writer for and Live Science. He covers all things human origins and astronomy as well as physics, animals and general science topics. Charles has a Master of Arts degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia, School of Journalism and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of South Florida. Charles has visited every continent on Earth, drinking rancid yak butter tea in Lhasa, snorkeling with sea lions in the Galapagos and even climbing an iceberg in Antarctica. Visit him at