In space, every second matters. The European Space Agency (ESA) learned that the hard way in October. Upon descent, their Schiaparelli probe slammed into the surface of Mars. After an investigation, it was determined that the probe misread the distance to the surface. Specifically, the Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) on the probe sent poor data to the lander’s computer that it had already landed on the surface or was about to, and prematurely released its parachute. In a statement, the ESA stated that the IMU’s saturation reading only lasted one second, however that was enough to disrupt the whole system.
Fortunately, for ESA, the probe still delivered a ‘wealth of data’ while entering Mars’ atmosphere. However, it should be noted that the rover was only intended to last a few days on the surface–but given the crash incident, the ESA has been under fire. It is questioned if ESA will be able to garner the $330 million to assist in funding a 2020 mission with Russia. As context, another component of the first half of the ExoMars mission was its Trace Gas Orbiter, which the ESA successfully launched. Its main purpose is to collect data from Mars’ atmosphere, however it will also be utilized to relay data from the rover vehicle (the showcase payload for the 2020 mission) to be launched by Russia. Now as a result of the crash, ESA members are not enthusiastic about funneling more financial resources into the ExoMars program.
In early December, ministers of the various nations composing the European Space Agency decided to meet. Amongst a myriad of issues they have to discuss, a prominent one is the future of their Mars rover. The ExoMars rover has been long-discussed and has encountered its fair share of issues-nearly being abandoned on several occasions. One issue being the high cost, in addition to the inconsistency of the production/testing schedule. The purpose of the rover is to assist human spaceflight by sampling the soil on Mars in search for life.
The ExoMars now needs an additional $430 million if it is expected to launch on schedule. Following a technical review, if given the funds, the ExoMars will remain on schedule. The director of the ESA made it explicitly clear that member states need to either provide full financial support or none at all in order to make a firm decision, instead of providing minimal funds that do not benefit it.
Ultimately, if ESA chooses to provide funding, this would spark new interest in space travel. Perhaps new opportunities will arise for European astronauts to link up with the ISS and will allow for the chance for ESA to create a service module for the Orion crew ship.