Feeds

European Mars mission delayed

Mission might be getting bigger

Application security programs and practises

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. ®

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
BEST BATTERY EVER: All lithium, all the time, plus a dash of carbon nano-stuff
We have found the Holy Grail (of batteries) - boffins
Asteroid's DINO KILLING SPREE just bad luck – boffins
Sauricide WASN'T inevitable, reckon scientists
Flamewars in SPAAACE: cooler fires hint at energy efficiency
Experiment aboard ISS shows we should all chill out for cleaner engines
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable
Learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.