WASHINGTON NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) announced Aug. 2 the five science instruments that will fly aboard the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, a European-built spacecraft slated to launch to the red planet in 2016 atop a U.S. rocket.

The instrument selection marks the beginning of a joint Mars exploration program NASA and the 18-nation ESA agreed to pursue during a July 2009 meeting in England. That agreement was confirmed by ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in a statement of intent signed in November.

“Independently, NASA and ESA have made amazing discoveries up to this point,” Ed Weiler, NASA’s associate administrator for science, said in an Aug. 2 press release. “Working together, we’ll reduce duplication of effort, expand our capabilities and see results neither ever could have achieved alone.”

The plan calls for joint missions in 2016 and 2018 leading to a Mars sample-return mission in the 2020s. The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter is part of a 2016 mission that consists of a European-built small lander, an orbiter with a primarily U.S. science payload, and NASA-provided launch vehicle and communications components, according to the press release.


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The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter will study the chemical makeup of the martian atmosphere with a thousand times more sensitivity than previous Mars orbiters. The spacecraft also will serve as an additional communications relay for Mars surface missions beginning in 2018.

The planned 2018 mission consists of a European rover with a drilling capability, a NASA rover capable of collecting samples for potential future return to Earth, a NASA landing system and a NASA-provided launch vehicle.

The five ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter instruments were selected from 19 proposals submitted in January. The instruments and their principal investigators are:

  • Mars Atmosphere Trace Molecule Occultation Spectrometer; Paul Wemmberg, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.
  • High Resolution Solar Occultation and Nadir Spectrometer; Ann C. Vandaele. Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy, Brussels, Belgium.
  • ExoMars Climate Sounder; John Schofield, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena.
  • High Resolution Color Imager; Alfred McEwen, University of Arizona, Tucson.
  • Mars Atmospheric Global Imaging Experiment; Bruce Cantor, Malin Space Systems, San Diego.

Brian Berger is editor in chief of SpaceNews.com and the SpaceNews magazine. He joined SpaceNews.com in 1998, spending his first decade with the publication covering NASA. His reporting on the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia accident was...