The first mission to the red planet sent by Europe was successfully launched last week in the form of ExoMars. At the moment, the next ambitious act will soon take place: landing on Mars.
The mission was launched on March 14 by the ESA (European Space Agency) together with its Russian partners. ExoMars is an orbiter that will set the table for full-blown rover scheduled to launch in 2018. However, there are several funding and technical problems that might delay the rover until 2020.
According to the robot exploration coordinator of ESA Rolf de Groot, in spite of the difficulties they are facing, the program managers will soon determine whether they have to change the launch date to 2020. The statement has reinforced by Thomas Reiter, robotic exploration and human spaceflight director at ESA and former astronaut.
This is not the first delay experienced by ExoMars. Since the development of the project ten years ago, the rover was supposed to be launched on a Soyuz rocket in a single mission on a low budget. It was only in 2005 that the rover expanded, and the mission was renamed “Enhanced ExoMars”. Later on, it was split into two launching programs, of a rover and a satellite when NASA become an international partner three years later.
Furthermore, NASA wanted to provide ESA with the Atlas launcher for a safe landing on the red planet. Unfortunately, the space agency had to quit the project because of financing issues. As a result, Roscosmos space agency from Russia took its place for providing Proton rockets. According to Reiter, Roscosmos is set to play a larger role in 2018, especially since the collaboration between the European and Russian industries will significantly grow in spite of their differences.
ExoMars was set to launch in January 2016, but it was delayed until March 14 after a lander problem was discovered. Unfortunately, if the rover misses its 2018 date, it will launch at the same time with the Mars 2020 mission of NASA.
Lastly, there is the problem of funding. While the major part of the project has already been funded and the entire budget is of €1.3 billion ($1.5 billion), ESA might still face financial difficulties. More funding might be necessary for the completion of the mission as ESA has requested €200 million ($220 million) by the end of May in order to pay for additional operations and hardware production.
Hopefully, the mission will launch and land in time, because the scientific payroll would be huge and surely give more information for the much awaited Mars mission.
Image Source: space.com
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