Europe vows to maintain Mars missions, despite NASA's absence
Feb 14, 2012, 13:29 GMT
Paris - The European Space Agency said Tuesday it hoped to forge ahead with two missions to Mars, despite US space agency NASA pulling out of what had been planned as a joint programme.
The ExoMars programme plans to send an orbiter to search for methane in the Red Planet's atmosphere in 2016, then send a rover to its surface in 2018.
US budget documents released Monday showed NASA pulling out of the missions, raising fears for the future of the programme.
An ESA spokesman, Franco Bonacina, said the agency was looking to Russia to partly fill NASA's shoes. 'We'll try to push ahead with the Russians,' he told dpa.
NASA's decision, which is part of the agency's move away from planetary science towards human spaceflights and space technology, has thrown the funding for ExoMars into question.
NASA was to have covered about half the programme's cost.
Bonacina said ESA's contribution was planned at around 1 billion euros and that the costs of joint space missions were usually split 50/50, which would put NASA's contribution at around 1 billion dollars.
Space.com website said NASA's contribution would have been 1.4 billion dollars.
'Probably we will have to go back to (ESA) member states to ask for more money,' Bonacina said.
NASA's withdrawal drives up the overall cost of the programme, because NASA is the only agency with a system for landing an ESA-built rover on Mars by 2018.
Without NASA, Europe would have to build its own lander.
Dordain told Space News website that ESA would present the costs of carrying out the mission without NASA to the agency's 19 member states in mid-March.
He ruled out delaying the missions, saying that to do so would 'cost a lot more money.'
The president of the Italian Space Agency (ASI), Enrico Saggese, told Space News that, despite Italy's sovereign debt crunch, ASI's support for the programme was still solid.
'We need to go to Mars and we need to maintain the 2016 and 2018 dates,' Saggese said.
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