Monday, December 05, 2005

Europe's Own Vision for Space Exploration

Ministers from 17 European countries are meeting in Berlin to discuss the future of Europe's space programme.

They will decide whether to give the go-ahead to a series of space missions proposed for the next decade.

A robotic Mars probe, a replacement for the lost Cryosat ice mission and a satellite network to monitor the Earth are all vying for funding.

The talks are regarded as pivotal to the future of Europe's space industry amid shrinking commercial markets.

This is made up of 3.1bn euros (£2.1bn) to fund the mandatory science programme until 2010, and a further 5.7bn euros (£3.8bn) to carry on with optional programmes and start new ventures.

New space proposals being discussed include:

* The ExoMars mission to put a lander on the Red Planet. Planned for 2011, it would explore for biology on our near neighbour.

* Work to define programmes that would lead to European cooperation on possible human missions to the Moon and Mars.

* The next phase of a programme to launch a series of satellites to monitor the health of the Earth, including building Cryosat 2, which would replace the ice-monitoring probe lost on launch in October.

* Implementing the GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) programme to improve environmental monitoring and policy making in Europe.

Other key issues to be discussed at the two-day meeting include:

* Proposals to join forces with Russia on its new spaceship, the Clipper, which will eventually replace the Soyuz capsule.

* Europe's access to space via the French-led Ariane 5 rocket and the Italian-led Vega rocket, which is currently in development.

Although the commercial market for space activities has witnessed a sharp decline in recent years, public expenditure on space is on the increase.

Read the rest at BBC.

Interesting stuff that seems to run a little contrary to earlier reports. The Clipper/Kliper seems to have not been decided on whether to join the Russians (or not) in building it, frex. That's a doozie. However, if they do so or if its considered a foregone conclusion, the others are all the more interesting. Consider that the discussions included are about whether or not to do precurser work for European Moon and Mars missions...which the Kliper might just be a part of.

Now factor in that the US is going to the Moon and possibly Mars. Then blend that the Chinese are talking about going to the Moon, that tells me that there is an awful lot of interest in expanding human occupation past the Earth. Does this mean that space race is 'on' again for prestige reasons?

Interesting final frontier related times indeed.

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