Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Aurora Space Exploration Programme’s proposal mulls take off in May

04.04.2007
Scientists working with the European Science Foundation (ESF) are putting the finishing touches to an ambitious programme of research for the exploration of the Moon and Mars. They expect to publish their proposals in May.

The Aurora Programme was set up by the European Space Agency (ESA) in 2001 as Europe’s contribution to an international endeavour to explore the solar system. A flotilla of robotic probes will pave the way towards the ultimate goal of landing humans on Mars in the 2030s.

“Aurora is not science-driven in the same way as the mandatory science programme of ESA,” says Dr Jean-Claude Worms, of ESF. “It’s a technology-driven programme though it does of course have an important science component.”

The first Aurora mission will be ExoMars, a robotic spacecraft scheduled to depart in 2013-2014 to land on the red planet. It will release a rover carrying a fully equipped laboratory able to analyse rock and soil samples for signs of life. Even though few scientists expect to find living organisms on Mars, there remains a chance that traces of extinct life may be detectable from an earlier era when the planet was more hospitable than it is today.

Europe was then expecting to play a major part in a US-led mission to send a probe to pick up and return a sample of Martian soil. That is regarded as an essential forerunner to a later human expedition. NASA has now put the project on hold and it is uncertain when, if ever, it will fly.

ESA now is considering whether to go ahead with its own sample-return mission. It would be an ambitious undertaking, with five spacecraft modules and several new procedures such as precision landing, take-off from Mars, orbital rendezvous and a return to Earth. “Of course, the US and maybe other stakeholders such as Japan, China or India could participate,” says Dr Worms, “but the current discussion in the community is whether a sample-return mission could be a European-led effort.”

In the light of this more ambitious challenge ESA has asked ESF to come up with a revised scientific strategy for the whole of the Aurora programme. ESF’s European Space Sciences Committee is developing priorities under five headings: robotic probes to the Moon, Mars and asteroids, and human expeditions to the Moon and Mars. Their recommendations will be announced at a workshop in Athens in May.

Human spaceflight has always been controversial – many space scientists think that robotic probes are much more cost effective – however without humans on Mars at an appropriate stage the scientific and technological return will be incomplete and the confirmation of the hypothesis that life exists or has existed in some form there will probably remain open.

“Humans are adaptable, more dexterous and much better at dealing with the unpredictable,” says Dr Worms. “Whenever you’re faced with a decision to be taken quickly, it’s certainly better to have humans there on Mars than down here on Earth.” Radio signals can take up to 20 minutes to make the journey from Earth to Mars so it is not practicable to control a robotic explorer in real time. Extensive geological fieldwork (e.g. deep drilling or in situ microfossils search) is one area where a human geologist can work more efficiently and creatively than even the most advanced automated rover.

But with the Americans already planning their own programme of exploration, why does Europe need to get involved at all? “Aurora is going to be the European contribution to an international endeavour,” Dr Worms stresses. “The idea is that Europe should develop its own roadmap, define its own capabilities and its own unique expertise so that it could contribute to an international programme. We want to find those niches in which Europe is best and prepare a programme that makes use of them. That’s why we’re designing our own programme, not because we want to go it alone but because we want to be a major part of an international venture.”

European industry, too, will benefit from the exacting technological challenges that Aurora will demand of it. “If the goals were purely scientific, then scientists probably would not care very much about who takes the lead as long as good science is done. But in this specific context the competitiveness of European industry is important as well and for this you need to develop unique capabilities or at least mirror some capabilities you currently don’t have.”

The ESF is an association of 75 member organisations devoted to scientific research in 30 European countries. Since its inception in 1974, it has coordinated a wide range of pan-European scientific initiatives.

Thomas Lau | alfa
Further information:
http://www.esf.org/research-areas/space/news/ext-news-singleview/article/aurora-space-exploration-programmes-proposal-mulls-take-off-in

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht New quantum liquid crystals may play role in future of computers
21.04.2017 | California Institute of Technology

nachricht Light rays from a supernova bent by the curvature of space-time around a galaxy
21.04.2017 | Stockholm University

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

Im Focus: Quantum-physical Model System

Computer-assisted methods aid Heidelberg physicists in reproducing experiment with ultracold atoms

Two researchers at Heidelberg University have developed a model system that enables a better understanding of the processes in a quantum-physical experiment...

Im Focus: Glacier bacteria’s contribution to carbon cycling

Glaciers might seem rather inhospitable environments. However, they are home to a diverse and vibrant microbial community. It’s becoming increasingly clear that they play a bigger role in the carbon cycle than previously thought.

A new study, now published in the journal Nature Geoscience, shows how microbial communities in melting glaciers contribute to the Earth’s carbon cycle, a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

New quantum liquid crystals may play role in future of computers

21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A promising target for kidney fibrosis

21.04.2017 | Health and Medicine

Light rays from a supernova bent by the curvature of space-time around a galaxy

21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>