LONDON The U.K is to be a major player in the first phase of the European Space Agency's robotic space exploration programme – Aurora – which will set the agenda for Europe's robotic exploration of space for the next 10 years.
The U.K. is to invest around £74 million into Aurora, making it the second largest contributor. The majority of this – £70million – will go into ExoMars ESA's Mars Exploration mission which is due to launch in 2011, arriving at Mars in 2013. A further £5 million is to be invested into the Core Programme to prepare for a future Mars Sample Return mission.
ExoMars will involve exploring Mars in three dimensions, investigating the existence of life on the planet and study Mars's suitability for an eventual human mission. It will investigate the surface of Mars with a rover and will also look at what is below the surface with a seismometer, ground penetrating radar and a drill. The technology and instrumentation prepared for ExoMars will pave the way for a future network of science stations and for a sample return mission.
Professor Keith Mason, CEO of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) and Chair of the UK Space Board, said, “This commitment by the UK to this major new European programme is highly significant and as well as paving the way for great scientific return it represents an investment in core technologies to be developed not only for ExoMars but for further robotic missions.”
The U.K. also committed £258 million to ESA's science programme representing approximately 18% of the total ESA science programme budget.