Wednesday 21 November 2012

Russia to the rescue in mission to the Red Planet

Last year it looked like a joint ESA-NASA programme to launch a satellite, followed by a rover to Mars was destined to failure as NASA revealed that it would not be putting up its side of the funds for the venture.  Luckily, following talks this year, the project is back on track after Russia was ‘invited’ to join the mission.

The partnership got off to a rocky start; when talks began between the ESA and Roscosmos it was pretty one sided… the ESA got two Russian built proton rockets and Russia got, well, nothing. 

Unsurprisingly, Russia said no.  Proton rockets are particularly expensive and Russia would get no tangible benefit from the project. Despite all this, Russia’s scientists continued their interest in the joint mission and, thankfully, have more or less reached an agreement which will see them provide the rockets needed to launch the satellite and rover in exchange for space on both launches for their own equipment and places for their scientists on the ESA research groups.

It’s hoped that the satellite will launch in 2016 and look for possible points of origin for Methane on Mars, which will inform a 2018 rover launch, which will look for signs of life, past or present, on the surface and up to 2m into the surface. However, these dates could be pushed back further… the agreement between the two space agencies hasn’t been signed and sealed yet! Although work as begun and most of the £1.2 billion required is in place.

Oh, and the Americans haven’t quite gone away; a smaller rover built by NASA will be accompanying the European rover in 2018.

- Ben Hall

Follow @benkhall on Twitter

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