Can Russia save future NASA, European Space Agency Mars missions?

NASA/ESA Exo Mars plan is in jeopardy, Russians may be able to help

exo mars
NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) said they are looking at bringing on the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) as a partner in the planned NASA-ESA Mars mission known as Exo Mars.

From NASA: "Representatives from NASA, the ESA) and Roscosmos met in Paris on December 7 to explore partnership opportunities involving future Mars missions.  Further technical discussions will continue over the coming months to confirm the interest of all three partners. Any NASA decisions on this matter will be based on the outcome of these technical discussions and following the release of the President's FY2013 budget, in February 2012.  NASA is committed to a robust Mars exploration program, both robotic and human. The U.S. spends more on Mars exploration than any other nation in the world, and is the only country to ever successfully land and operate a rover on Mars. And of course, we just launched the most sophisticated Mars rover ever built."

More on Mars: 15 reasons why Mars is one hot, hot, hot planet

NASA and the ESA originally envisioned the Exo Mars program would launch a system to the red planet by 2016 with a second launch in 2018. But that seems unlikely now as NASA's budget constraints have prevented it from committing to that either launch dates.    

Also in their plans, ESA said it would build what it calls an Entry, Descent, and semi-soft Landing System (EDLS) technology demonstrator and a science/relay orbiter.  In 2018, the ESA/NSA combo would deliver its ExoMars rover equipped with drilling capability. NASA's contribution in 2016 included the Atlas rocket for launch,  a trace gas mapping and imaging scientific payload for the orbiter.  In 2018 NASA  committed the rocket for the launch and other technical components. The program would focus on  conducting a variety of  astrobiological, geological, geophysical, climatological, and other high-priority investigations and aiming at returning samples from Mars in the mid-2020s.

The notion of bringing Roscosmos into the mix is that it could offer its Proton rocket to enable the 2016 launch.  It might also solidify the rest of the mission beyond 2016.

Still, according to, "having Russia ride to the rescue with a Proton vehicle for the 2016 mission carries its own set of problems for ESA. The agency has budgeted 1 billion euros ($1.4 billion) for its entire ExoMars project, but has been unable to secure more than 850 million euros from its member governments. The financial condition of these governments has not improved in recent months, but ESA officials have said they could structure the ExoMars program so that the missing 150 million euros is not needed until late in the program, for rover operations and other post-2018 expenses. "

 Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  and on Facebook

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