A mission underway at the European Space Agency will mark Europe’s entry into the Mars exploration effort while pushing the boundaries of Martian science and technology to new limits. Mars Express is intended to conduct the most thorough search yet for the presence of water or other signs of life on the red planet, despite a budget that would make NASA planners blush. Mars Express will comprise an orbiter costing 150 million euros ($127 million) and a lander, Beagle 2, that will cost barely 50 million euros–by far the cheapest Mars project ever. The probe will be ESA’s first Flexible mission–the agency’s answer to NASA’s “faster, better, cheaper” approach.
Europe Targets 2003 Mars Touchdown Aviation Week & Space Technology
2003 Landing System Undergoes Evaluation Aviation Week & Space Technology
Mars Explorer Rover (MER) project officials have determined they may not be able to take the design of the Pathfinder airbag landing system and “build it to spec” for the twin 2003 MER missions as planned. While still early in development, it appears there could be at least minor changes to the landing system’s parachute, solid rocket braking motors or possibly the airbags themselves to accommodate the heavier payload weight, and weight margin, for the 2003 mission. Officials plan to firm up the baseline in January when a project review is scheduled.
NASA Invests Heavily In New Technology Aviation Week & Space Technology
NASA is going back to the drawing board to develop a series of “second-generation” Mars landers and rovers intended to provide safer and more accurate landings and the capability to cover far greater distances over the surface of the planet. The work is aimed at providing future technology options for planners, beginning with a proposed validation mission during the 2007 Mars launch opportunity intended to prove some of the new designs.
Europe To Have Major Sample Return Role Aviation Week & Space Technology
France, Italy and several other European countries are angling to play an important part in the sample return missions, and the demonstration flight that will precede them, in line with their growing participation in Martian exploration. Under a statement of intent (SOI) signed in October, French national space agency CNES will provide two orbital vehicles–one for a demonstration mission in 2007, the other for the first Mars Sample Return (MSR) flight; a network of four Netlander probes to accompany the 2007 mission; and the launch for the 2007 mission ( AW&ST Nov. 13, p. 99). The Netlanders will also involve the collaboration of German aerospace center DLR, the Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI) and SSTC of Belgium. A final memorandum of understanding (MOU) is to be concluded late next year.
NASA Weighs Mission Options Aviation Week & Space Technology
NASA has put all of its Mars sample return (MSR) mission options back on the table and plans to conduct an extensive engineering analysis over the next 1.5 years to select the best combination of new technology and operational techniques. The space agency’s goal is to make those decisions in time for a validation mission during the 2007 launch opportunity. And if all works according to plan, the systems and operations used during the 2007 mission would be mirrored in a sample return mission expectedas early as 2011.
Mission Surge Goal: Decode Mars’ Mysteries Aviation Week & Space Technology
With all options back on the table, international teams are exploring new technology, advanced radioisotope power sources and Russian participation.