ESA maps out a Martian future
Nov 6, 1998
European space scientists have called on Europe's space ministers to fund a mission to Mars. The Mars Express mission - which will include both an orbiter and a lander - could be ready for launch in 2003. However, the science programme committee of the European Space Agency has warned that costs on the project must be tightly controlled. The committee has also called on ministers to maintain ESA's space science budget at 1998 levels in real terms. Under an agreement reached in 1995, the budget will decrease by 3% per year unless ministers reverse that decision at a meeting due to take place early next month.
At a cost of ECU 150 m Mars Express is already the cheapest space mission ever proposed for the red planet. However, scientists on the committee are worried that if costs on Mars Express escalate, then other missions - such as PLANCK, a cosmology mission, and FIRST, an infrared telescope - will be threatened. The orbiter will carry seven scientific instrument including a high-resolution camera, a range of spectrometers, and a radar to penetrate below the surface. "Mars Express will confirm Europe's interest in a major target for space research in the new century, " said Roger Bonnet, ESA's director of science.
The orbital instruments are included in the cost of the mission. The committee also approved Beagle 2, a project led by the Open University in the UK, as the only appropriate lander proposal for Mars Express. However, the Beagle 2 team will have to raise £25 m (ECU 35.05 m) for the project, otherwise it will not be allowed on the mission.