ESA Space Ministers to Discuss Priorities This Week; Crewed Vehicle, Rockets on Agenda


Ministers in charge of space activities within the now 18 ESA Member States and Canada will meet in The Hague (the Netherlands) on 25 and 26 November to implement the European Space Policy, setting out the start of future programmes and taking decisions on the next phases of on-going programmes….

ARV & Human Spaceflight

The European Transportation and Human Exploration Preparatory Activities Programme includes the initial definition phases of an ATV-based cargo download system (Automated Reentry Vehicle – ARV) and the continuation of cooperation with Russia. This new transportation system is planned to comprise a service module, a reentry module and a launch escape system (for a possible subsequent crewed version).

Lunar Exploration

Studies on the definition of a Moon lander will also be pursued, along with the development of enabling human exploration capabilities including Moon-landing technologies, habitation and life support systems and demonstrators. Scenario and architecture studies will be carried out to prepare future activities as well as to support the refinement of a common European vision for space exploration involving ESA, the EU and their respective Member States.

Mars Exploration

The Enhanced ExoMars mission, which has evolved significantly from the original scenario proposed in December 2005, is due for launch in early 2016 using a heavy lift launcher (an Ariane 5 from Kourou or a Russian Proton-M from Baikonur) and arriving 10 months after launch. The mission is the first of ESA’s Aurora programme and includes development of several main components: the spacecraft composite consisting of a Carrier Module and a large Descent Module; the Pasteur and Humboldt payloads; the Entry Descent and Landing system; a Mobile Rover including a drill capable of drilling down to 2m in depth and sample acquisition capability.

Discussions are under way for Russia and NASA to be major partners in this mission: partnership with the USA could include provision of various functional elements, such as the Pasteur Urey exobiology instrument and contributions to other Pasteur and Humboldt instruments. Partnership with Russia would see a linkage to their Phobos-Grunt mission to Mars’ moon Phobos, with elements such as procurement and handling of radio-isotope heating units; scientific cooperation on instrumentation; communications’ cross-support for Phobos-Grunt; and the potential use of the Proton-M as launcher. All this still subject to final confirmation at the completion of the on-going investigations with the partners. In addition, certain simplifications of the mission will be required to get within the subscription envelope.

The future Mars Robotic Exploration Preparation programme (also included in the European Space Exploration Programme, Aurora) is a preparatory programme for the development of European capabilities to enable the long-term exploration of Mars. It includes the definition of an exploration strategy and roadmaps, and Mars Sample Return (MSR) preparatory studies with a view to a cooperative endeavour that could take place between 2020 and 2030 with NASA and possibly other partners. The programme also covers intermediate missions before MSR (such as rendezvous and capture in orbit, aero-braking, sample collection, high mobility rovers and hard landing demonstrations), exploration technology developments as well as awareness and education activities.

Launch Technologies

Starting from 2010, Ariane, Soyuz and Vega launchers will be operated from the Guiana Space Centre – Europe’s Spaceport – under a legal framework that foresees a new agreement between ESA and the French government (French Guiana is a French overseas department). Under this agreement France guarantees the availability of the launch range for ESA programmes and activities as well as for the exploitation phases of Ariane, Vega and Soyuz. The proposal for the Agency contribution to the funding of the Guiana Space Centre and associated services beyond 2008 covers the costs related to the services to be provided by CNES in maintaining in permanent operational condition the Guiana Space Centre launch range and the protective fences around the facilities and the land made available to ESA.

The Ariane 5 Research and Technology Accompaniment Programme Extension (ARTA 2011-13) aims to eliminate flaws and weaknesses appearing during operational use and to improve knowledge of the functional behaviour of the launcher in flight. The programme serves to maintain the qualification status of the Ariane 5 launch system, thus ensuring guaranteed and independent access to space in the heavy payload class. It is an essential continuation of the current programme and covers sample and testing, flight analysis, flight hardware anomalies and obsolescence and provides a contribution to the maintenance in operational condition – the so-called MCO costs – of Ariane ground testing facilities. Through this programme, for the period 2009-11, ESA Participating States are also putting measures in place to guarantee the continuity of Ariane 5 production in the event that the risks associated with the worldwide commercial market introduce future imbalances in the currently balanced exploitation.

The preparatory phase of the evolution of Ariane 5 is covered in the Ariane 5 post-ECA Programme, planned to run from 2009 until 2011. This programme will initiate activities for the future evolution of Ariane 5 (the ECA version being the current Ariane 5 workhorse) to bring the development of the re-ignitable Vinci engine and of the new cryogenic upper stage to a level of technical maturity that will allow a final decision on the configuration and full development phase of the improved Ariane 5 version in 2011, a qualification flight around 2016/2017 and operational service up to ~2025. The decision on the development phase will be made on the basis of the results of the preparatory phase, of industrial commitments for development completion and exploitation costs, and of consolidated market needs for the period 2015-20.

The Vega Research and Technology Accompaniment Programme Extension (VERTA) 2011-12 is the continuation of the current programme (approved in 2005 for the period 2006-10) to accompany the initial exploitation of the Vega launcher, and its maintenance in qualified status during its operational life. The accompaniment activities for the period 2011-12 cover: sample and testing, flight analysis, flight hardware anomalies and obsolescence, as well as specific development activities to support the initial launcher exploitation (flight and ground segment), sized at an adequate level to take into account the Vega learning phase associated with the first flights. Additionally, the programme proposal includes limited system activities on the most promising evolutionary configurations of the Vega launcher.

For the longer term, the proposal for the continuation of the Future Launchers Preparatory Programme (step 2 of period 2 covering the period 2009-12; the programme was accepted in 2001 and Period 1 was adopted in 2003 to cover period 2004-06) is aimed at preparing a solid basis for preserving independent access to space, identifying the best option for responding to future institutional needs while maintaining long-term competitiveness on the commercial market (post-2025). The programme will make it possible to achieve a significant step forward in technology maturation and validation through ground and in-flight demonstrators.

The FLPP programme (step 2 of period 2) addresses selected next generation launcher concepts and at the same time investigates new expendable launcher concepts or evolutions of existing launchers. Works also include preparatory activities in view of the launch of the IXV (Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle) on board a Vega launcher in 2012, as well as ground demonstrators and technology development and verification for promising enabling technologies.