Feeds

European Mars mission delayed

Mission might be getting bigger

Business security measures using SSL

The European Space Agency (ESA) has elected to delay the launch of its next Mars mission, ExoMars, by two years.

The decision, taken to allow more time to test key technologies, gives ESA scientists extra time to lobby for an expansion of the mission, which could almost double its cost.

ExoMars is Europe's first planned rover mission to Mars. Originally slated to launch in 2011, the mission will now blast off in 2013.

The new launch date will allow ESA to spend more time refining technologies like airbags, supersonic parachutes, descent control, and stability systems, the BBC reports. The rover's drive systems and navigation controls are also likely to come under further scrutiny.

The delay also gives mission planners time to expand the scope of the mission, something scientists have been pushing for since the mission was first mooted. Currently, the launch capacity of the Soyuz-Fregat rocket means just eight kilos of payload have been allocated to scientific instruments. Scientists have always argued that for the mission to do anything groundbreaking closer to 13 or 15 kilos of equipment should be sent.

This would mean a more powerful rocket is needed and that will cost money. The lander is scheduled to launch on a Russian Soyuz-Fregat rocket from the Cosmodrome in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. An upgraded mission would have to be launched from French Guinea with the heavy-lifter Ariane-5.

This, combined with the additional equipment, will push the price tag from an estimated €500m to around €800m. In turn, this will mean petitioning member states for more cash.

"From the point of view of a scientist or an engineer, a mission with an Ariane-5 makes much more sense," Marcello Coradini, coordinator for Solar System missions in ESA's science directorate, told the BBC. "However, that implies political negotiations over the budget, in which the results are not guaranteed."

There are plenty of arguments in favour of expanding the mission. The only downside is finding the extra cash.

For instance, while planners are bargaining on using NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to relay signals to and from Earth, the Ariane rocket would make it possible to send a second, orbiting craft with the lander. This would make communications with the rover much more certain, since ESA can't guarantee NASA will still be operating the MRO by the time ExoMars lands.

Despite the planned delay to the launch, ExoMars won't arrive at its destination much later, thanks to the alignment of the planets.

A launch in mid 2011 would see ExoMars spending two years in a heliocentric orbit, arriving at Mars in June 2013. Launching in December 2013, the craft can take a much more direct route, arriving at the red planet under a year later.

This shorter journey, ESA notes, would mean the payload would be exposed to fewer charged particles en route, minimising the chance of damage to the delicate instruments on board. ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
SCREW YOU, Russia! NASA lobs $6.8bn at Boeing AND SpaceX to run space station taxis
Musk charging nearly half as much as Boeing for crew trips
PORTAL TO ELSEWHERE scried in small galaxy far, far away
Supermassive black hole dominates titchy star formation
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
City hidden beneath England's Stonehenge had HUMAN ABATTOIR. And a pub
Boozed-up ancients drank beer before tearing corpses apart
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL
Discussing the vulnerabilities inherent in Wi-Fi networks, and how using TLS/SSL for your entire site will assure security.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.