24 November 2012, 10:51

Europe to invest 12 bln euros in a new space Odyssey

Europe to invest 12 bln euros in a new space Odyssey

Member states of the European Space Agency (ESA) and Canada met in Naples, Italy, to determine the space agenda and the budget for the next five years. The discussed projects include ExoMars rover, Ariane 5 rocket modernization and NASA’s new manned Orion multipurpose crew vehicle (MPCV), as well as some 12bn euros' worth of activities.

The Naples meeting was crucial for Russian space research as it was to approve the ExoMars mission deal between ESA and Russia’s Roskosmos space agency. The project has been approved and the deal will be sealed November 27.

Thus, Russia got another chance to explore Mars, five years after the Phobos mission failure. The first phase of the ExoMars mission is planned for 2016 and Russia’s Academy of Sciences has already begun research to design equipment for the Trace Gas Orbiter robotic orbit carrier which includes ACS spectrometers and the FREND neutron detector to study water distribution on the Mars surface. It also includes the EDL demonstrator module to exploit the entry descent and landing. Russia is also expected to contribute its Proton carrier rocket to the project.

The second ExoMars phase will be the launch of the Pasteur rover scheduled for 2018. Russia is providing a carrier rocket and a landing platform with research equipment as well as two gadgets for the rover.

This project is a real technological challenge both for Russia and ESA which hasn’t yet enjoyed a successful Mars landing. In December 2004, the Beagle 2 landing spacecraft was carried to Mars but the mission appeared unsuccessful. However, the Mars Express reconnaissance orbiter carried together with Beagle 2 has been working on the Red Planet for almost 8 years and sent plenty of useful data about Mars atmosphere, surface and climate change.

The Naples meeting showed that space is not only about competition but also about cooperation.

Shortly before the meeting, Spacex CEO Elon Musk, whose company is designing the Falcon 9 rocket-powered spaceflight launch system and the NASA-ordered Dragon spacecraft, told BBC that “Ariane 5 has no chance to compete with Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy. If I were in the position of Ariane, I would really push for an Ariane 6,” adding that Falcon’s “quoted price of under $60m per flight is proving highly attractive to satellite operators who have to pay substantially more to get on an Ariane”.

“The next version of Falcon 9 is actually able to go to a lower price”, pledged Mr. Musk.

IF ESA wants to stay on the market it should “start the development on a next-generation Ariane - often dubbed Ariane 6- immediately” –was Mr.Musk’s advice.

However, ESA has its own view on the situation planning the current vehicle upgraded before moving to a new design.

The upgrade - known as Ariane 5ME (Mid-Life Evolution) was began in 2008 and is expected to have its first mission in 2012-18 (in case of Ariane 6 it would be only 2021). The new model is to be compatible with Ariane 6 reducing the cost of the eventual project.

The ESA nations also agreed to extend the ISS Exploitation until 2020 and to contribute to the design of the Orion MPCV.

Orion is the ATV derived service module which is also used at the ISS. It was part of the already shut NASA’s Constellation program, and is being designed to venture into deep missions to the far side of the Moon, near-Earth asteroids, and Mars.

Britain has also agreed to play a major role in the project contributing some 20 mln euros and now the US government is to decide whether to approve the program or not.

Experts say that ESA joining the Orion will change the project as now the debut of the Space Launch System (SLS) that is to send the Orion to the Moon in 2017 has quite a dim perspective.

If the project is joined by other parties, the Orion prospects will become more definite and ESA’s contribution can appear decisive for the project which is crucial for the future of manned missions.

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