ExoMars highlights Russia-EU Mars cooperation

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February 04, 2015
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In a hall of the Moscow Planetarium which is to open after 17 years of repair works on June 12, 2011. © Evgenyi Samarin, RIA Novosti

thinkRUSSIA invites you to discover the latest developments of the ExoMars mission, the flagship project of Russia-EU Mars cooperation.

Russia’s rich historical record in spatial cooperation

Russia has been at the forefront of space exploration and technological development since the start of the space age, continuously innovating for over 75 years.

But Russia also has a rich history of spatial cooperation.  Its shared role onboard the International Space Station has seen the Russian Federal Space Agency ‘Roscosmos’ work alongside 20 European partners, all members of the European Space Agency (ESA), as well as with the U.S., Canada, Japan and Brazil in delivering ambitious and innovative projects that have broken new ground in our understanding of space, science and human endeavour.

ExoMars set to explore life on Mars

Yet, establishing whether life existed on Mars remains one of the outstanding scientific questions of our time. In 2012, the ESA and Roscosmos agreed to develop the ExoMars program; its objective, “to investigate the Martian environment and to demonstrate new technologies paving the way for a future Mars sample return mission in the 2020's”.

On its first mission in 2016, the ExoMars project will launch an orbital probe, followed by a landing on the Martian surface of a lander module. The probe itself will remain in Mars’ orbit to image the surface’s features and study the composition of the atmosphere. It will investigate the existence of any gas traces such as methane, recently detected on the surface of Mars by NASA's Curiosity rover and a critical element in proving whether life could have existed.

Two years later, a Martian rover probe will be launched to explore the surface of the Red Planet; this will be only the second non-US rover to be ever deployed on Mars.  ExoMars will follow the British and ESA Beagle 2 rover which travelled to Mars but was declared lost in 2004 after attempts to contact the craft failed.  The rover was recently discovered, damaged and unworkable in January 2015 on the planet’s surface, highlighting the significant risks to achieving a Mars landing.  Hoping for greater success, the ESA has identified four locations on Mars where it could send the ExoMars rover, all ancient terrain where satellite evidence of the planets topography suggests water was present for long periods of time, another critical element to sustaining life.   

Project in full swing

Recently, the deputy head of Roscosmos, Sergey Saveliev, announced in an interview with Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper that the work on ExoMars is well under way.  

The ExoMars ‘Trace Gas Orbiter’ module was completed last year, marking an important step in the project, while the technical design of the browser that will travel to Mars in 2018 is almost complete.

ExoMars highlights the importance of spatial cooperation

Space exploration is expensive and risky.  The UK Space Agency’s recent decision to invest over £200 million extra into Europe's space programme is significant. According to the UK Minister for Universities and Science, Greg Clark, this investment will secure the country a lead role in the ExoMars mission.   Bringing its technical expertise to the project, Roscosmos will be providing the proton launcher for both missions. There are many factors that will impact on this first ExoMars mission as it navigates its journey from design to construction and from Earth to Mars but with continued cooperation between the EU and Russia, all parties are committed to giving ExoMars the greatest chance of success in solving one of the key questions of our galaxy.  

How important do you think the ExoMars project is for wider Russia-EU spatial cooperation and exploration? 

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