BBC: ExoMars Gets Green Light With Russia as ESA's New Partner, but Door Still Open to NASA

BBC: ExoMars Gets Green Light With Russia as ESA's New Partner, but Door Still Open to NASA

The European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) governing body decided yesterday to proceed with the ExoMars mission even though NASA withdrew as a partner, the BBC reports.   Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, will replace NASA, but the cost of the mission consequently will grow and the source of the additional funds is not yet clear.

NASA’s plans to cooperate with ESA on ExoMars as the first in a series of Mars missions that ultimately would result in returning a sample of Mars to Earth were upset by President Obama’s FY2013 budget request for the agency.   NASA’s planetary exploration program would be cut by 21 percent if Congress approves the request.  The Mars program, in particular, would be hard hit.  Even if Congress were to add money for Mars exploration, it is not expected to finalize action on NASA’s FY2013 budget in time to change the outcome for NASA’s participation in ExoMars, which is scheduled for launch in 2016. 

A second NASA-ESA mission scheduled for 2018 would also be cancelled, although NASA Associate Administrator for Science, John Grunsfeld, has created a team to define a smaller Mars mission that could be launched that year instead of the larger mission planned with ESA.

NASA’s budget woes are not deterring ESA, however,   The ESA Council decided yesterday to proceed with ExoMars, although the BBC report made clear that many hurdles remain.  Among them is finding an additional “several hundred million euros” needed because of changes resulting from Russia replacing the United States.   The ExoMars mission is currently capped at 1 billion euros.   The extra money may be taken from other ESA science missions, the BBC says, and ESA member states also may be asked to provide additional funds.

Under the new plan, Russia will replace the United States for both the 2016 and 2018 missions.  ESA’s Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain reportedly made clear, however, that NASA is welcome back at any time.  His spokesman was quoted by the BBC as saying that “The door always remains open to Nasa. … They will always be welcome, so long as they bring support.  International cooperation doesn’t die just because Nasa said they didn’t have the money to do this now.”

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