Europe Set To Bring New Eyes And Hands To Mars Exploration
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 Agency 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 sites. 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. Agency) 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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