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UK announces £1.7 million Aurora spend for Exomars mission

By Rob Coppinger in London

The UK’s Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) has announced £1.7 million ($3 million) for research and development for the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Exomars mission.

The UK is the second largest contributor to ESA’s Aurora exploration programme. The €600 million ($680 million) Exomars mission will seek signs of life and is one of two Aurora robotic missions. The second is Mars Sample Return.

Launched on a Soyuz booster in 2011 Exomars will take two years for the rover to reach Mars.
Of the £1.7 million, £250,000 is being spent on entry, descent and landing systems (EDLS), with an additional £50,000 from UK industry.

The EDLS is expected to include a heat shield, parachutes, autonomous descent control, telemetry transmission back to Earth, and airbags. UK company LogicaCMG is leading a team to provide improved models of the Martian atmosphere and find ways of determining location and speed during descent.
“The team pulls together the expertise to address the most critical phase of the mission; the deceleration from 5.6km/s...to a soft landing,” says PPARC space science director David Parker.

While UK company Vorticity is working on airbags, for which it has recently completed tests for a €450,000 two-year ESA study.  However the UK funding does not guarantee that UK technology will be used for Exomars.

In early 2007 the ESA member state council will decide if an orbiter will be added to the mission.
This would act as a communications satellite relaying the rover’s signals back to Earth.

This change would require an additional €175 million to pay for the orbiter’s development and the Ariane 5 launch needed with the greater Exomars mass. It would also see a change in the launch date to 2016.
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