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Europe Set To Bring New Eyes And Hands To Mars Exploration

Model of the Beagle 2 lander. ESA Image
Paris - Nov 22, 2000
Starting with Mars Express and Beagle 2 and ending with a possible Sample Return Mission, Europe will be making a major contribution to Mars exploration over the next two decades. Europe's plans complement the new programme recently announced by NASA in the wake of last year's mission losses.

"The European programme looks very promising. Mars Express is the most complex remote sensing mission around -- and Beagle 2 is the most sophisticated science lab in the whole bunch of missions so far approved or outlined," says Risto Pellinen, director of the Geophysical Research Department at the Finnish Meteorological Institute and chairman of the International Mars Exploration Working Group (IMEWG).

The IMEWG met in Helsinki on 9-10 November to discuss the latest plans. With 40 attendees from 13 countries, it was the largest ever meeting of the group. Rather than act as a deterrent, the recent failures are opening up more opportunities for international collaboration. "Nobody can run their own Mars exploration programme. I think the mishaps have taught us that," says Pellinen.

The new programme is spread over more years than NASA's earlier plans to allow time to develop the technologies needed for the climax, a sample return mission sometime after 2010. "The slower pace may also help get more people involved," says Pellinen.

Plans up to 2003 are firm. Those in 2005 and 2007 are reasonably secure. Beyond, however, they represent a preferred strategy rather than a definite programme. In outline, they are as follows:

Date      Mission and       Highlights

Present   Mars Global       Orbiter producing imaging, altimetry,
          Surveyor, NASA    composition and magnetic field data.

2001      Mars Odyssey,     Orbiter carrying gamma-ray spectrometer for
          NASA              mapping the chemical composition of the
                            Martian surface.

2003      Mars Express and  Orbiter for remote sensing of many aspects of
          Beagle 2, ESA     the surface, subsurface and atmosphere of Mars,
                            in particular search for water. Beagle 2 lander
                            for exobiology, geochemistry and atmosphere-
                            surface interactions.

2003      Nozomi, ISAS      Orbiter to study the Martian upper atmosphere 
          (Japanese Space   and its interaction with the solar wind.
          Agency)           Observations will be coordinated with relevant
                            observations on Mars Express.

2003      Two large Mars    Robotic explorers able to track 100m/day.
          Rovers, NASA      Geology and search for water.

2005      Mars              Atmospheric observations to recover the lost
          Reconnaissance    objectives of Mars Climate Orbiter. Very 
          Orbiter, NASA     detailed imaging to identify potential landing

2007      Orbiter plus      Orbiter for remote sensing experiments plus
          four Netlanders,  telecommunications between the Netlanders and
          CNES (French      Earth. Netlanders will study the dynamics of the
          Space Agency)     atmosphere and the internal structure of Mars by
                            seismic sounding.

2007      TELEMARS, ASI     Orbiter providing powerful telecommunications
          (Italian Space    link for the Netlanders and other future landers.

2007      Lander, NASA      High precision landing. Long-range, long-duration
                            mobile science lab in preparation for a future
                            sample return mission.

2009      Orbiter, NASA     Synthetic Aperture Radar for detailed terrain
          and ASI           mapping.
2011-     Sample Return     NASA will retrieve samples from Mars and place
2016      Mission, NASA     them in orbit using a Mars Ascent Vehicle. A CNES
          and CNES          orbiter will collect the samples and bring them
                            back to Earth.

NASA, DLR (the German Space Agency) and ESA are all considering possible supplementary missions to this plan. NASA is considering a small "Scout" mission for launch in 2007 and DLR may decide to send a microsatellite to Mars. Spares developed for Mars Express could possibly be used to build another mission to the red planet in 2005, when ESA has a gap in its science mission launch programme. "The Mars Express platform is made for Mars. So it is worth seeing if there is any way of using this opportunity," says Pellinen.

How should the programme look after 2010? This will be the subject of the next IMEWG meeting in Florida on 9-10 April, the launch date of Mars Odyssey. One issue for discussion will be the balance to be struck between conducting more in situ observations and really going for sample return.

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Mars In The Early 21st Century
Pasadena - Nov 6, 2000
In the wake of last year's twin Mars failures NASA's exploration program is undergoing a period of crisis and drastic redesign. And while the Outer Planets exploration program - or lack there of - has left a bitter taste for many involved, plans for Mars are pushing ahead as SpaceDaily's Bruce Moomaw reports from Pasadena, where members of NASA's Solar System Exploration Subcommittee met last week.

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