Dora – The Explora’
Two weeks ago, at the annual ESA’s Ministerial Council in Naples, Europe’s space exploration efforts took a hit. With several countries scaling back spending in the face of the crisis, gathering funding for a proposed EU landing on the moon had proven difficult. The so-called “Lunar Lander” project came to an end when the UK, Spain, Italy and Germany backed out.
However, The ESA has since received a boost. Last week in Naples an agreement was reached on the Agency’s future. It guaranteed both a further development of the Ariane rocket, (the thingamajig that propels satellites and other cargo into space), as well as on-going European involvement in the International Space Station. Representatives from the 20 ESA Member States passed a budget of €10 billion for the next three years, on par with the budget passed four years ago.
Also on the horizon, the ESA is set to cooperate with NASA on the construction of the Orion capsule which will transport both people and goods to and from the International Space Station. This un-crewed NASA spacecraft will fly to the moon in 2017 and a crewed mission will go into lunar orbit in 2019. This will mark the first time NASA has asked a non-US country to develop technology for a manned space flight program. A person might be compelled to say it’s one small step for them (?); but one giant leap for Europe-kind.
Britain has also announced an intention to increase its ESA funding by 30% over the next five years. That includes €20 million for the Orion project – and means it will now hand over €300 million a year to the ESA. Impressive, but still far below the German contribution of €2.7 billion over the last four years.
To Mars or to Coventry…?
Last week’s Naples summit had another success to celebrate. Back in February, NASA had backed out of a joint mission with the ESA to send a vehicle to collect samples from the atmosphere of Mars in 2016, and to send a surface exploratory vehicle onto the planet in 2018. Beginning in 2005, some €400 million had already been invested in the mission. Fortunately, the ESA found a new partner; on Wednesday 21 November, it was reported that Russia is swooping in to join forces with the Europeans.
For more info, check out the European Space Agency website (http://www.esa.int/esaCP/).
To watch the press conference on the ESA Council meeting in Naples, go to http://multimedia.esa.int/Videos/2012/11/ESA-Ministerial-Council-Press-Conference-replay