WASHINGTON — If NASA wants to participate in Europe’s Euclid dark matter survey mission, it will have to formally commit to an instrument contribution valued at about $20 million by mid-May, an official with the European Space Agency (ESA) said Jan. 18.

Fabio Favata, head of ESA’s Science Planning and Community Coordination Office, said that unless the two space agencies sign a formal memorandum of understanding by then, “there can be no collaboration between NASA and ESA.”

Favata said that the two agencies would have to come to the negotiating table in early February to begin work on a formal agreement. He spoke from Paris via video linkup with U.S. scientists assembled here for an ad hoc meeting of a National Research Council study committee examining NASA’s potential cooperation with ESA on the Euclid mission.

Euclid, which is slated to launch in 2019, was one of two M-class missions ESA’s Science Program Committee selected in October to proceed toward development. Favata said ESA can build and launch Euclid without a U.S. contribution, but would like NASA to contribute near-infrared detectors.

The United States is the primary supplier of this technology, and such hardware includes components covered by the U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations. Therefore, the U.S. State Department would have to vet any barter agreement between NASA and ESA — a consideration Favata said factored into the timetable he laid out for NASA and U.S. scientists at the Jan. 18 meeting.

In return for its hardware contribution, NASA would be allowed to appoint one of the 12 members of the Euclid science team. The agency would also get to review data collected by the Euclid spacecraft while the information was still in the proprietary phase and not yet cleared for release to the global science community at large.

Acting NASA astrophysics director Paul Hertz, who also attended the Jan. 18 meeting, said that the contribution would come out of NASA’s 2012 and 2013 budgets, and that it would be paid for by spreading the approximately $20 million cost of the hardware across the entire astrophysics division. Astrophysics received a $672 million appropriation for 2012.

The White House is expected to release its 2013 NASA budget request in early February.  Favata said ESA expects to spend about 600 million euros ($770 million) building the Euclid spacecraft platform and contracting for its launch aboard a Europeanized version of Russia’s medium-lift Soyuz rocket.

Euclid’s core science instruments will be largely furnished and financed by various national laboratories across Europe. Favata said he expects these member-state contributions to equal about 40 percent of ESA’s contribution, bringing Euclid’s total cost to around 840 million euros. Joining ESA on Euclid would allow NASA to get an early start on addressing some of the scientific questions the National Research Council identified as high priorities in the 10-year-plan for astronomy and astrophysics it sent NASA in 2010. That plan, known as the decadal survey, also called for NASA to build and launch by 2022 a $1.6 billion space observatory dubbed the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope, or WFIRST.

NASA, however, does not expect to be able to begin work on WFIRST in earnest until it finishes building the long-delayed, budget-busting James Webb Space Telescope. Webb, the top priority from the previous astrophysics decadal survey, is now expected to launch in 2018 and cost NASA some $8.5 billion by the time it completes its first five years of observations.

Hertz told scientists that WFIRST is not likely to launch before 2025. He also said contributing to Euclid would not have any effect on WFIRST’s schedule.



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Dan Leone is a SpaceNews staff writer, covering NASA, NOAA and a growing number of entrepreneurial space companies. He earned a bachelor’s degree in public communications from the American University in Washington.