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UK pumps €108m into Mars mission

ExoMars to probe Red Planet

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The UK has whipped out its cheque book and pumped €108m into the European Space Agency's "Aurora" robotic space exploration programme which will culminate in a Mars exploration mission (ExoMars) due to touch down on the Red Planet in 2013. ExoMars will account for most of the cash, while €7.1m is earmarked for preparations for a future "Mars Sample Return" mission.

Speaking at the ESA's ministerial shindig in Berlin this week, the UK's Minister for Science and Innovation, Lord Sainsbury, declared: "Aurora will build on last week's exciting Mars Express results which provide the first concrete evidence of significant amounts of water under the surface of Mars. As a major contributor, the UK will have a leading role in this programme which is set to improve our understanding of Mars and the Solar System."

The ExoMars mission will involve a roving vehicle equipped with seismometer, drill and ground-penetrating radar designed to probe the Martian surface and beneath and assess the planet's suitability for future human exploration.

Professor Keith Mason, CEO of the UK's Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council and Chair of the UK Space Board, said: "ExoMars will compliment the international efforts to explore Mars and the rest of ESA's successful space programme to explore our solar system. Mars Express, Cassini-Huygens and Smart-1 continue to deliver amazing results with further revelations set to return through missions such as Venus Express and Rosetta." ®

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