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article imageESA and Roscosmos sign deal for ExoMars Mars explorer missions

By Robert Myles     Mar 14, 2013 in Science
The European Space Agency and the Russian federal space agency, Roscosmos, announced today that they entered a formal agreement to work together on the ExoMars programme, looking ahead to the launch of two missions to the planet Mars in 2016 and 2018.
In a week which has seen data from NASA’s Mars Rover Curiosity giving a strong indication that conditions once existed on Mars which would have been, at the very least, not averse to the existence of life on the Red Planet, the ESA and Roscosmos maintained the momentum towards establishing whether life ever existed on Mars with a preliminary announcement concerning their proposed ExoMars programme.
The two space agencies have outlined how they would undertake a sharing of mission responsibilities for two intended forays to Mars in 2016 and 2018. Under the ExoMars agreement, the ESA will provide the Trace Gas Orbiter and the Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module in 2016, and the carrier and rover in 2018. Roscosmos will be responsible for providing the 2018 descent module to the surface of Mars as well as the surface platform. The Russian space agency will also provide launchers for both missions.
Depiction of ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter and Entry  Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module
Depiction of ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter and Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module
European Space Agency
The ExoMars missions will provide a platform for the ESA to demonstrate technologies currently under development in centres of technology across Europe encompassing landing, roving, drilling and sample preparation for analysis — all essential pre-requisites of the next major step of Mars exploration which will be an automated sample-return mission.
In the 2016 mission, the principal ESA components will be the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) the Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module (EDM). The TGO will sniff the Martian atmosphere for traces of methane and other atmospheric gases which could be an indication of active biological life or geological processes. It was also double as a data relay station for the later 2018 mission. The purpose of the 2016 EDM will be to test and prove technologies essential for the success of the 2018 mission.
Drilling where no drill has drilled before
The ExoMars rover mission scheduled for 2018 is a highly ambitious project. Like NASA’s Curiosity rover, the ExoMars rover will range over the Martian surface but it’s intended the ExoMars rover will drill to significantly greater depths than Curiosity. The mission plan is that ExoMars rover will drill down through the Martian surface to depths up to
Depiction of ExoMars Mars rover showing projected drilling depth
Depiction of ExoMars Mars rover showing projected drilling depth
European Space Agency
2 metres (about 6½ feet) and gather samples long shielded from the harsh surface conditions on Mars. On the Martian surface, radiation and oxidants can destroy any organic materials making their detection nigh on impossible.
Originally it was intended that NASA would contribute substantially to the ExoMars missions but in 2012, due to budgetary constraints, NASA had to terminate its participation in ExoMars. Although NASA ceased to be a major contributor last year, it will still be involved in supplying the Electra UHF radio package for TGO, and Mars Proximity Link telecom and engineering support to the EDM.
Speaking at the signing of the ExoMars agreement at ESA Headquarters in Paris today, ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain said, “This is a momentous occasion for the ExoMars programme that will see industry and scientists from Europe and Russia working together on these two exciting missions, which will develop new technologies that will demonstrate the competitiveness of European industry and will be important for preparing strong participation by ESA in future international exploration missions and address the key question of whether life ever arose on Mars.”
Head of Roscosmos Vladimir Popovkin commented, “It has been a long way, we have performed a large amount of work together. The ExoMars programme is to become the second large project after Soyuz in Kourou. It confirms again that projects of such tremendous scale have to be implemented through international cooperation. The scientific data that we are going to obtain during all the planned missions are important for the worldwide community.”
The ExoMars Programme is funded by fourteen ESA states, with the largest contribution coming from Italy and the second largest from the UK. A variety of member states provide an array of scientific instruments to ExoMars. For the 2016 TGO, these include the infrared and ultraviolet spectrometer package NOMAD (led by Belgium) and the CaSSIS high-resolution colour stereo camera (led by Switzerland). Italy will lead the DREAMS environmental station on the EDM.
The 2018 Rover will comprise PanCam, a wide-angle and high resolution camera system (led by the United Kingdom); CLUPI, a close-up imager (led by Switzerland); WISDOM, a ground-penetrating radar (led by France); Ma_MISS, a miniaturised infrared spectrometer integrated in the subsurface drill (led by Italy); MicrOmega, a visible and infrared imaging spectrometer (led by France); RLS, a Raman spectrometer (led by Spain), and MOMA, a novel organic molecule detector (led by Germany, with substantial contributions from the United States).
The first launch for the ExoMars missions is scheduled for January 2016.
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