Rising costs create Mars Express money troubles
Last week, the ESA announced that part of their joint European-Russian mission to search for signs of life on Mars may be delayed due to cash flow problems.
As Jan Woerner, the ESA director general, told journalists in Paris:
We need some more money.
The ExoMars project is a two-part mission. The first element, the orbiter, is scheduled to kick off in March this year and is scheduled to arrive at the Red Planet six months later.
The second part is a rover. The launch for this element is scheduled for 2018 with touchdown the following year.
But, citing cost increases, Mars Express money troubles may delay this second launch. As Woerner explained, the timeframe for the second leg has become "a challenge".
So far, we are still planning to have the 2016 mission, as I said... and we will have the 2018 mission later on. If we cannot get the (20)18 mission on time, this is not as dramatic as it sounds.
The rising costs would not completely scuttle the rover launch and landing, but it could mean a two year delay.
Woerner said he did not know how much money was needed, but the amount would be revealed to ESA's member nations "very soon".
About ExoMars 2016
ExoMars has one primary objective -- to search for signs of Martian life -- past or present.
The 2016 orbiter will seek to detect atmospheric traces of methane and other gases that would point to the existence of microbes.
The rover, in turn, will drive over the Red Planet in search of organic matter -- drilling up to two meters deep for samples and analyzing them on site.
As Woerner commented:
It's a thrill. It's really a very nice opportunity to see whether we find some organic material down in the soil or whatever is there.
ESA has a total budget of 5.25 billion euros ($5.75 billion) for 2016, up from 4.4 billion euros the previous year. Still, Mars Express money troubles seem to indicate that the costs may be rising faster than the budgets.
But Woerner sounded hopeful:
I hope that everything goes well and that we will have this rover on Mars either in 2018, preferably, or later on. But it's important because then we can say more about what is happening on Mars, or what happened on Mars.