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ESA Forced To Seek Partners Outside Europe for ExoMars

— The reorganization of
‘s ExoMars mission, which was ordered by European Space Agency (ESA) governments, will force program managers to move work out of
to other nations, and to explore wider cooperation with the
United States
. However, the restructuring will not affect the total cost of the mission or its scientific value, ESA Science Director David Southwood said.

In an Oct. 23 interview, Southwood said the total cost estimate for ExoMars is about 1.2 billion euros ($1.6 billion). Because ESA member states voted to limit the agency’s expenditures on ExoMars to 1 billion euros, ESA now must seek a much deeper involvement in the program by nations outside
than it originally had planned.

At the same time ESA governments ordered the agency to cap its budget at 1 billion euros, they also agreed to push back the ExoMars launch from early 2016 until late 2013.

“I don’t like the delay,” Southwood said. “I take it almost as a personal defeat. But we will now use the additional time to review the instruments to be carried and find the equivalent of 200 million euros in cooperation. NASA and the Russian space agency are the most obvious partners and we’re talking to both.
also may be interested.”

tentatively is planned for launch aboard a single heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket that will carry a Mars lander and rover vehicle. Depending on what cooperation agreements are struck, the ExoMars carrier module also will be used as a data-relay satellite to return lander and rover data to Earth.

said discussions with NASA have begun to reflect the later ExoMars launch date, but that it is too early to say what form the cooperation may take. He said ESA and NASA might negotiate an accord that includes a NASA role in ExoMars in return for an ESA contribution to a planned NASA mission.

ESA and
already have agreed that ESA will contribute its global ground tracking network to
‘s Phobos-Grunt mission to Mars’ largest moon, Phobos, whose launch had been planned for 2009 but is likely to slip.

For ExoMars,
has offered the possibility of using a Russian Proton heavy-lift rocket as its contribution, a possibility that could meet resistance in
, home to the Arianespace launch consortium.

But substituting a Proton vehicle would provide at least 75 percent of the total ExoMars savings that Southwood has been ordered to find, and also would simplify the use of Russian-supplied nuclear heaters for the Mars rover.

ESA has been negotiating the commercial purchase of radioisotope heater units in
, but their integration into ExoMars for an Ariane 5 launch from
spaceport would not be straightforward given security-related issues to be addressed at the European launch site.

has first-hand experience in seeing how a complicated cooperation accord can be made simple when the minority partner contributes the launcher: NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is scheduled for launch in 2013 aboard an Ariane 5 rocket.

“It certainly does make things simpler” to find a big-ticket item to be contributed by one side rather than negotiating technology-export and other matters on a component-by-component basis, Southwood said.

, the changes to ExoMars will force a reorganization of industrial roles.

The Italian Space Agency has said it cannot maintain its 36 percent share of ExoMars if the price tag rises above the original 650 million euros granted for a less-capable ExoMars design in 2005.

said that for the ExoMars now being developed, “the Italian contribution in percentage terms will drop dramatically. I will now have to move some work from
or elsewhere. But
will remain the biggest participant so there is no reason to change the mission prime contractor.”

Alenia Space
thus will remain ExoMars prime contractor, but will need to restructure its subcontractor team to assure that industry in other nations get work shares commensurate with their governments’ increased ExoMars participation.

has been funded by voluntary contributions from ESA governments, unlike all other ESA science missions, which are financed by mandatory contributions from each ESA member state based on national economic output.