Now that Mars Express has successfully released Beagle 2 on its way to Mars the
next step in Europe’s exciting journey to Mars will be completed on Christmas
Day, with the arrival of ESA’s Mars Express orbiter, and the delivery of the
Beagle 2 lander to the planet’s dusty plains.

Over several years, Mars Express will survey the entire planet in unprecedented
detail, mapping the surface, probing for underground water and analysing the
thin, carbon-dioxide-rich atmosphere. Down below, the miniaturised instruments
on Beagle 2 will search for signs of primitive life and cast some light on the
environmental hazards to humans.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, ESA’s Aurora Programme is already looking several
decades ahead to a time when humans will leave their footprints in the red sands

of Mars.

ESA scientists and engineers, supported by the European scientific and
industrial communities, have been working to put together a comprehensive plan
for the robotic and human exploraration of the solar system, and notably of the
Moon and Mars. This plan will greatly benefit from the expertise and knowledge
that is being gained from the Europe’s pioneering Mars Express mission.

Aurora’s long-term plan

The latest version of this ambitious roadmap was presented at the third Aurora
Working Meeting in Cologne in November. This long-term plan, which has been
endorsed by Aurora’s Exploration Programme Advisory Committee (EPAC), recently
received the blessing of the Aurora Board of Participants.

Aurora’s long-term plan stems from two strands: the current human spaceflight
experience in low Earth orbit (LEO) and the development of robotic planetary
exploration. The former is to be continued and enhanced so that human
spaceflight can be extended beyond LEO. The latter will be pursued throughout
the Aurora Programme with the aim of extending capabilities towards larger
spacecraft suitable for the human exploration of the solar system. The
intertwined development of capabilities in the two strands will eventually
result in Europe being able to play a key role in a future international human
mission to Mars.

The early robotic missions will build on the capabilities and discoveries of
Mars Express and Smart-1 in order to acquire the scientific knowledge and
technological expertise necessary to pursue more advanced missions. Meanwhile,
ground-based studies (e.g. Concordia station in Antarctica) and experiments or
demonstrations on the International Space Station will pave the way for
in-flight demonstrations of human spaceflight technologies.

These are some of the highlights of the current Aurora roadmap:

* 2007: an entry vehicle demonstrator mission to validate and demonstrate
high-speed re-entry technology.

* 2009: ExoMars, an exobiology mission to send a rover to Mars in order to
search for traces of life — past or present — and characterise the nature of
the surface environment.

* 2011/2014: Mars sample return, a split mission to bring back to Earth the
first samples of Martian material.

* 2014: Human mission technologies demonstrator(s) to validate technologies for
orbital assembly and docking, life support and human habitation.

* 2018: a technology precursor mission to demonstrate aerobraking/aerocapture,
solar electric propulsion and soft landing (formerly envisaged as a smaller
Arrow-class mission to be launched in 2010)

* 2024: a human mission to the Moon to demonstrate key life support and
habitation technologies, as well as aspects of crew performance and adaptation
and in situ resources utilisation technologies.

* 2026: an automatic mission to Mars to test the main phases of a human mission
to Mars.

* 2030/2033: a split mission that will culminate in the first human landing on

“This plan is based on inputs from industry and previous working meetings, as
well as deliberations with the Aurora Exploration Programme Advisory Committee,”

said Dietrich Vennemann, head of the Aurora long-term planning team.

“It is a living document, not carved in stone, as the redefinition of the
aerocapture demonstration mission demonstrates, ” he added. “This means that the

timeline will be updated regularly in order to take account of results generated

within the programme.

“This is Europe’s roadmap, and its implementation will take into account
co-operation with international partners. We see this objective as an ambition
for humanity,” he explained. “Aurora is Europe’s opportunity to fulfil this


* More about Aurora

* Flagship missions

* Arrow missions

* Aurora roadmap poster (pdf)


[Image 1:]
Draft design of the human modules for Mars exploration currently being studied
in the ESA/ESTEC Concurrent Design Facility in the framework of the Aurora
long-term plan

Credits: Liquifer, Viena, Austria

[Image 2:]
Artist’s impression of the ExoMars rover with its exobiology payload

Credits: ESA

[Image 3:]
The Concordia station, a new scientific base being built in Antarctica by IPEV –

the French Polar Institute, and PNRA, the Italian Antarctic Programme.

Credits: IPEV