Europe plays a major part in future Mars exploration
21 November 2000Starting with Mars Express and Beagle 2 and ending with a possible Sample Return Mission, Europe will be making a major contribution to Mars exploration over the next two decades. Europe's plans complement the new programme recently announced by NASA in the wake of last year's mission losses.
"The European programme looks very promising. Mars Express is the most complex remote sensing mission around - and Beagle 2 is the most sophisticated science lab in the whole bunch of missions so far approved or outlined," says Risto Pellinen, director of the Geophysical Research Department at the Finnish Meteorological Institute and chairman of the International Mars Exploration Working Group (IMEWG).
The IMEWG met in Helsinki on 9-10 November to discuss the latest plans. With 40 attendees from 13 countries, it was the largest ever meeting of the group. Rather than act as a deterrent, the recent failures are opening up more opportunities for international collaboration. "Nobody can run their own Mars exploration programme. I think the mishaps have taught us that," says Pellinen.
The new programme is spread over more years than NASA's earlier plans to allow time to develop the technologies needed for the climax, a sample return mission sometime after 2010. "The slower pace may also help get more people involved," says Pellinen.
Plans up to 2003 are firm. Those in 2005 and 2007 are reasonably secure. Beyond, however, they represent a preferred strategy rather than a definite programme. In outline, they are as follows:
|Date||Mission and agency||Highlights|
|Present||Mars Global Surveyor, NASA||Orbiter producing imaging, altimetry, composition and magnetic field data.|
|2001||Mars Odyssey, NASA||Orbiter carrying gamma-ray spectrometer for mapping the chemical composition of the Martian surface.|
|2003||Mars Express and Beagle 2, ESA||Orbiter for remote sensing of many aspects of the surface, subsurface and atmosphere of Mars, in particular search for water. Beagle 2 lander for exobiology, geochemistry and atmosphere-surface interactions.|
|2003||Nozomi, ISAS (Japanese Space Agency)||Orbiter to study the Martian upper atmosphere and its interaction with the solar wind. Observations will be coordinated with relevant observations on Mars Express.|
|2003||Two large Mars Rovers, NASA||Robotic explorers able to track 100m/day. Geology and search for water.|
|2005||Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, NASA||Atmospheric observations to recover the lost objectives of Mars Climate Orbiter. Very detailed imaging to identify potential landing sites.|
|2007||Orbiter plus four Netlanders, CNES (French Space Agency)||Orbiter for remote sensing experiments plus telecommunications between the Netlanders and Earth. Netlanders will study the dynamics of the atmosphere and the internal structure of Mars by seismic sounding.|
|2007||TELEMARS, ASI (Italian Space Agency)||Orbiter providing powerful telecommunications link for the Netlanders and other future landers.|
|2007||Lander, NASA||High precision landing. Long-range, long-duration mobile science lab in preparation for a future sample return mission.|
|2009||Orbiter, NASA and ASI||Synthetic Aperture Radar for detailed terrain mapping.|
|2011- 2016||Sample Return Mission, NASA and CNES||NASA will retrieve samples from Mars and place them in orbit using a Mars Ascent Vehicle. A CNES orbiter will collect the samples and bring them back to Earth.|
NASA, DLR (the German Space Agency) and ESA are all considering possible supplementary missions to this plan. NASA is considering a small "Scout" mission for launch in 2007 and DLR may decide to send a microsatellite to Mars. Spares developed for Mars Express could possibly be used to build another mission to the red planet in 2005, when ESA has a gap in its science mission launch programme. "The Mars Express platform is made for Mars. So it is worth seeing if there is any way of using this opportunity," says Pellinen.
How should the programme look after 2010? This will be the subject of the next IMEWG meeting in Florida on 9-10 April, the launch date of Mars Odyssey. One issue for discussion will be the balance to be struck between conducting more in situ observations and really going for sample return.