Science

Europe’s record space budget to save the beleaguered ExoMars rover

Member states of the European Space Agency (ESA) have approved a record budget of almost 17 billion euros, which, among other things, will help cover the cost of restoring the landing platform of the beleaguered ExoMars rover.

The budget, approved by the ESA Council at ministerial level in Paris on Wednesday (November 23), represents an increase of 17% from what was adopted at the previous meeting of Member States in 2019. a number of ambitious projects, including the development of its own European constellation of secure communications satellites and a lunar lander called Argonaut.

ESA representatives praised Member States for such a commitment against the backdrop of years of economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine. The new budget will bolster Europe’s position in a world dominated by NASA and an increasingly assertive China, ESA officials said.

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“Europe has given itself the means, technical, scientific and financial resources, so that it can compete with the other two space powers on the planet, China and the United States,” ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher said at a November 23 press conference. .

The budget of 16.9 billion euros (17.6 billion US dollars) is calculated over a three-year period. NASA, by comparison, annually asks the US Congress to approve the agency’s budget. NASA’s 2022 budget was $24 billion, making ESA’s budget less than a third of NASA’s budget despite the increase.

€2.7 billion of the newly approved funding has been allocated to ESA’s Human and Robot Research Programme, which covers Europe’s contribution to the International Space Station as well as future exploration of the Moon and Mars. This includes 360 million euros to restore the landing system of the troubled ExoMars Rosalind Franklin rover, a mission developed in cooperation with Russia that had to be put on hold due to the situation in Ukraine.

“From the location of Rosalind Franklin to the museum, various options were discussed,” Aschbacher said. “I am very happy to report that we have found a very positive way forward, which means that Europe will take responsibility. Most of the ExoMars mission will be carried out using European technology.”

Aschbacher added that NASA is expected to help launch the mission from the ground, although “the contribution still needs to be confirmed.”

“We have expectations that the US will provide a launcher, a brake engine and radioisotope heating units, which are very important. But most of the future ExoMars mission will be European.”

Equipped with a 6.6-foot (2-metre) drill rig, ExoMars was built to search for traces of past Martian life much deeper below the surface of the Red Planet than NASA Perseverance can reach. Because Mars has no protective magnetic field and a very thin atmosphere, its surface is constantly exposed to extremely intense ultraviolet radiation and the solar wind. Scientists believe that the likelihood of finding traces of life in the more protected deeper underground layers is higher, which no other mission, existing or planned, can do.

The launch of the ExoMars Rosalind Franklin rover was delayed several times due to technical problems, but the rover was finally ready to begin its journey in September by launching on a Russian Proton rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. However, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, ESA suspended all cooperation with Russia, except for the partnership with the International Space Station, leaving the rover in limbo. In addition to the launcher, Russia also built the original landing platform, which now needs to be replaced.

The new budget will also allow Europe to fund the development of the Argonaut, a large logistics lander capable of carrying up to 1.9 tons (1.7 metric tons) of payload to and from the lunar surface.

“We will start working on this very soon. It is planned that at the very beginning of the 2030s the first transport to the moon will be launched, ”Aschbacher said. “But more importantly, this is not a one-time mission. We expect more of these vehicles to be needed in the future.”

Europe is also building service modules that provide propulsion, navigation and life support for NASA’s Orion space capsule, a prototype of which is currently on its debut unmanned round-trip flight to the Moon as part of the Artemis 1 mission. ESA has already secured three seats for its astronauts on future Artemis missions and hopes one of them will be able to set foot on the lunar surface.

The Council of Ministers also approved work on a future constellation of secure communications satellites, a series of Earth observation satellites, a Vigil space weather forecasting satellite, and a HERA mission that will visit the asteroids Didymos and Dimorphos to study the implications of NASA’s asteroid deflection test DART. .

The new budget does not include plans to build independent spacecraft for astronauts in Europe, although the agency has spoken of such ambitions in the past. However, Member States agreed that in the future, European government players should preferentially use European-made rockets to put their satellites into orbit, rather than buying launches elsewhere.

At the end of the ministerial conference, ESA announced six new astronauts to join its space corps, including former British Paralympian John McFall, who will help the agency “improve its understanding and overcome the barriers spaceflight poses to humanity.” astronauts with disabilities,” the ESA said in a statement. (will open in a new tab).

Follow Tereza Pultarova on Twitter @TerezaPultarova. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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