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FACTDROP: Russia and Europe give boost to Mars robotic mission


Russia and Europe give boost to Mars robotic mission

Πηγή: Mars Daily
By Zakutnyaya Olga (Voice of Russia)
April 7 2012

Russia's participation in ExoMars program is approaching. A meeting of ESA and Roscosmos is scheduled for April, 6. The European landing mission to Mars may prove to be a salvation for the Russian planetary program. Russia is a natural partner for ESA after NASA terminated its participation in ExoMars program. Still, disputes on space exploration tasks are far from being resolved.

Mars dreaming

On April 6, Jean-Jacques Dordain, European Space Agency's (ESA's) Director General is meeting with Vladimir Popovkin, the head of the Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos). Although the exact program of the meeting has not yet been disclosed, Roscosmos officials made it clear that the future agreement on ExoMars program is most likely to come into focus.

ExoMars, former joint European-American project on Mars exploration, has been suspended after Americans announced last year their withdrawal from the project, thus leaving the mission without the launcher and appreciable part of the scientific payload.

NASA said they were going to develop a new integrated strategy of Mars exploration. In part, the mission was supposed to try and find the faintest traces of life's molecular building blocks on Mars, NASA said in a statement.

To save the rather ambitious project form cancellation ESA addressed Roscosmos, which has just lost Phobos-Grunt, its only planetary probe in more than 20 years, in the Pacific. The decision on Roscosmos participation in ExoMars mission comes at time when Russian space plans are being thoroughly re-considered.

Phobos lost

Just after the Phobos-Grunt disaster in January 2011, the Russian scientific community announced that the project should be revived, however ambitious it still remains for Russian space science industry. The chief motif underlying the claim was that a sample return from Solar system's small body has not been either made or even proposed by any of the world space agencies.

Shall Phobos-Grunt-2 prove successful, Russian scientific and technological results will remain unbeaten for quite a long time. Moreover, scientific tasks of the mission are still up-to-date, as Phobos soil studiesmay shed light on the Solar system's origins and Mars formation, which are topics of common interest.

On the other hand, numerous skeptics pointed out the immense complexity of the task and obvious lags in Russian space technologies for spaceresearch. It is hardly disputable, since the last planetary probe which landed on a planet Venus, was Venera-14 in 1982.

And, finally, the money issue. Phobos-Grunt mission came at a cost of about 5 bln rubles. The second iteration could be cheaper, since many components are already developed, but still considerable for Russian space budget, and even more so if Russia gets involved into ExoMars program.

The controversy around Phobos-Grunt was explicated by a recent statement by Vladimir Popovkin, who claimed that prior to Phobos-Grunt approval its importance for science should be proved.

Dr. Lev Zelenyi, director of the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the major player in the development of the Phobos-Grunt scientific payload, argued that despite the long time period until the second spacecraft can be launched, its scientific tasks will not wither.

Roving Mars

Up until now neither Russia nor Europe have ever managed to send a fully successful landing mission to Mars. ExoMars, which comprises an orbiter and a lander with a rover, is therefore quite a challenge for both parties.

According to Roscosmos officials, if Russian participation is agreed upon, it shall provide the mission with the launcher (Proton) and substitute the American part of the scientific payload, thus benefiting Russian scientists. Moreover, the data obtained during the mission shall be possessed jointly by Europe and Russia.

Such a scheme is latently and openly approved by many of those involved in planetary missions. Yuri Koptev, former head of the Roscosmos, now appointed to coordinate the work on a new Strategy of Russian cosmonautics development, has pointed out in an interview the reasonability of international cooperation for large projects, such as ExoMars.

Just a part of the future

The Strategy itself has swirled a heated debate over what kind of space program Russia needs. Shall it still be oriented on manned flights, or rather space applications promotion? According to recent statements made by Vladimir Popovkin, the latter option is more likely.

The head of the Roscosmos has even shocked a certain part of the space community by announcing that Russia should probably not spend everything on space industry, just to be on the top in the 'Space Club'. The GDP share allocated for the space industry in Russia, according to Popovkin, even now exceeds that of the US, but Russia still has a lot more problems to solve.

One can expect that many of those involved would not agree with the head of the Russian space agency. However, the steps towards Mars taken together with the Europeans would be perhaps reasonable, and even ambitious enough to start an outer space crusade.

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