The European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian space agency approved a draft agreement on Nov. 19 to cooperate on the two-pronged ExoMars mission to the red planet and discussed the potential for joint cooperation on Jupiter exploration and lunar robotics.
The agreement, which has yet to be signed, would require Russia to provide Proton launch vehicles for the two-pronged mission that would send robotic probes to the Martian system in 2016 and 2018. In addition, Roscosmos would contribute two instruments to a telecom orbiter that would launch on the 2016 leg of the mission and develop the entry, descent and landing module for the 2018 leg of the campaign, with ESA’s help.
“We are joining forces for the entire set of activities,” said Frederic Nordlund, ESA’s head of international relations, who spoke to reporters on the sidelines of a key agency budget ministerial here this week.
Nordlund, who said ExoMars is not officially on the agenda of ESA member states at the ministerial, conceded the agency still needs to nail down funding for the estimated €1.2 billion ($1.5 billion) Mars mission, nearly €350 million of which remains in question. Nevertheless, he said the draft agreement is fully backed by ministers from the agency’s 20 member states.
“The full value of ExoMars is not just for the missions themselves but also as part of this new cycle of cooperation with Russia,” he said.
So far, ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain has secured most of the €350 million through a combination of sources: A €30 million increase from Italy to its ExoMars contribution; €90 million in new-entrant fees gleaned from the accession of Romania and Poland; a potential €50 million from the agency’s Science Program Committee, which could be approved in February next year; and €120 million in launch savings if the two sides agree to combine Russia’s Ganymede mission to the Jupiter system with Europe’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (Juice) mission, with a subsequent launch on a Proton rocket in 2022.
In addition to potential collaboration in the area of lunar robotics, Nordlund said the two sides discussed opportunities to cooperate on Juice, but no agreement was reached.
“We’re talking about 2022, so we still have time to fix all the details and that’s why we proceeded to cover ExoMars first,” he says.