Russia to Join ExoMars in 2013

ExoMars concept (Credit: ESA)

ExoMars concept (Credits: ESA).

The Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and the European Space Agency (ESA) are going to sign an agreement in the first quarter of 2013 on Russia’s participation in the European ExoMars mission.

“The agreement will be signed. We are starting financing this project,” Roscomos head Vladimir Popovkin told Izvestia newspaper on December 26.

Popovkin discussed Russia’s readiness to join the project with ESA director, Jean-Jacques Dordain, on December 21.  The signing of the document was expected to take place in November but was delayed, according to Popovkin, because of “the complexity of official procedures adopted by ESA.” The final agreement is now expected by January 20.

The ExoMars program, originally a joint ESA/NASA mission, consists of sending an orbiter to map methane sources and a landing demonstrator module to Mars in 2016, followed by a robotic rover looking for biosignatures in 2018. However, on February 13 NASA dropped its participation in the project due to budgetary cuts. Since then, Russia has repeatedly expressed its desire to join the project, offering to provide Proton rockets to replace the cancelled Atlas V launches that were part of NASA’s contribution to the mission. In exchange for the launches and scientific equipment, Russia requested full membership in the project.

Russia intends to partially finance ExoMars using the 1.2 billion rubles (about $40.7 million) insurance payments for the lost Phobos-Grunt sample probe to Martian moon Phobos. Under the agreement, the 2018 mission should see Russia fulfill more than 50 percent of the volume of work pertaining to the program.