Europe to Fund ExoMars Rover Despite Lander Crash

The European Space Agency is also backing an International Space Station extension, but an ambitious asteroid deflection mission has been put on hold.


The European Space Agency will continue development of a sophisticated rover to search for life on Mars despite a two-year delay in its launch and the October crash of a predecessor lander. Speaking to reporters at the conclusion of a two-day meeting in Lucerne, Switzerland, ESA Director General Jan Woerner also said the agency will remain a partner in the International Space Station program until at least 2024.

Overall, ESA plans to spend about $11 billion a year on space science, rocket and technology development, Earth observation and other programs. NASA's annual budget, but comparison, is about $19 billion.

ESA and its 22 member countries will pay almost $500 million extra for the ExoMars rover, which will miss its original 2018 launch date due to technical issues. Completing the sophisticated robot in time for a 2020 launch will be challenging, but Woerner noted that an additional delay is not an option, as the companion orbiter needed for communications back to Earth already is in orbit.

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One program that did not pass muster was the proposed Asteroid Impact Mission, or AIM, which was part of a project with NASA to test technologies that may be needed to deflect an incoming asteroid away from Earth.

ESA's member states declined to come up with the requested funds for the program, but Woerner said it would be folded back into a general space technology development effort and perhaps be recast for future consideration.

"We will go on with .... looking how we can really defend our planet in case something is happening and Bruce Willis is not ready to do it a second time," Woerner said, a quipping reference to Willis' 1998 film Armageddon, in which a team is sent to destroy an asteroid heading toward Earth.

There was no immediate word from NASA about how Europe's decision to sideline AIM would impact its plans.

Woerner may get more insight next week during a final official visit with NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, who is retiring next month. He also said it is too early to tell what kind of partnership to expect under a Trump Administration, but "I hope we can continue our very fruitful cooperation."

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