Category Archives: ESA

Europe’s Mission to Mars in 2016

EXOMARS is an exciting mission that’s happening sooner than you think, with a launch window now in March 2016. The mission, which is a joint venture with ESA and Roscosmos (the Russian space agency) will not only result in a presence in orbit around Mars taking measurements of atmospheric gases (potentially linked to present-day biological activity) but will also test landing capability on the red planet in advance of a more sophisticated landing mission, Exomars 2018.

Exomars ESA Rover, made and undergoing testing at Airbus, Stevenage UK, prior to its 2018 mission. Photo credit: Airbus Space and Defence
Exomars ESA Rover, made and undergoing testing at Airbus, Stevenage UK, prior to its 2018 mission. Photo credit: Airbus Space and Defence

The Schiaparelli module will separate from the orbiter and prove controlled landing technology to be used again with Exomars 2018. This mission will see the first European Rover on Mars, a robotic vehicle currently being tested at the Airbus facility near Stevenage in the UK. The analogue Martian surface is a large space at the Airbus Space centre near Stevenage, and it will continue use after the mission begins in order to be on hand to work out and resolve any challenges that may come toe rover’s way on Mars.

The collaboration between ESA and Roscosmos may seem to exist without a great deal of fanfare about the link-up between the two (are we in that post-political age?) but the deal is a far-reaching one, with ESA involvement in the proposed Luna25 manned Moon mission, the Russian connection could pay huge dividends to the European space program which it wouldn’t be achieving alone (and of course the same could be said for the Russians).

The 2016 mission is of course going to address the mystery Martian methane, and The Trace Gas Orbiter will also serve as a data relay asset for the 2018 rover mission of the ExoMars programme and until the end of 2022.

Russia (and Europe) To Go to The Moon

When the US ‘won’ the space race to the Moon, the events of that time effectively ended the political interest in space for a generation. Even though America never claimed the Moon as ‘American’, the Stars and Stripes were planted there, and no other nation has sent humans to step foot on the Moon. Maybe enough time has passed for the Apollo missions to simply seem to far away to mean the same thing, that sense of the Moon having been ‘done’ has evaporated; indeed, more and more people around the world, and even in America, question that NASA successfully landed on the Moon.

ESA plans to collaborate with Russia on the Luna 25 mission, and may end up sharing a lunar colony. Credit: ESA
ESA plans to collaborate with Russia on the Luna 25 mission, and may end up sharing a lunar colony. Credit: ESA

Let’s leave aside what an insult it is to great pioneers such as Buzz Aldrin, and focus on what’s next – a Russian mission to the Moon. With NASA’s recent statements about not ‘claiming’ places that they visit (with particular relevance to Mars), what about other nations? What if China goes to the Moon and claims it as Chinese? What if China gets to Mars first, will it reignite an international space-race again?  It’s very unlikely, NASA has ruled out going back to the Moon, despite so much interest from others in going there, and indeed, players other than China and Russia can be counted in that number.

In 2010, President Obama announced the administration’s decision to cancel NASA’s plans to return to the moon in favor of the new and ambitious Asteroid Redirect Mission. A robotic mission will grab an asteroid in outer space, lug it over to the moon and place it into lunar orbit. Once it’s in orbit around the moon, NASA will send astronauts to explore it, but they will not get involved in a race ‘back’ to the Moon.

So what’s this new mission about? Well, it should have Europeans excited too.

“We have an ambition to have European astronauts on the moon,” Bérengère Houdou, head of the lunar-exploration group at ESA’s European Space Research and Technology Center,recently told BBC News. “There are currently discussion at international level going on for broad cooperation on how to go back to the moon.”

Luna 25 Capsule. Credit: Roscosmos
Luna 25 Capsule. Credit: Roscosmos

The Luna 25 mission was initially proposed in 1997 and has since suffered a number of delays, but it seems that with Europe’s aid the mission could finally get the jump-start it needs. Luna 25 is a mission to the Moon’s south pole, and getting there in 2029 it could be right in the time-frame that NASA ‘could’ be carrying out it’s Mars missions – surely further collaborations between space agencies beckons? When we’re talking about the future of humanity on other planetary bodies, can we think beyond the limits of national interests and national space agencies, or is it that very competition that we still need as humans in order to commit the resources to succeed…

The Online Home of Principia Mission

It’s now just a few weeks until the first UK astronaut to go to the ISS sets off on their historic journey. Now you can get involved and follow all the progress the website dedicated to this mission here

UK astronaut Tim Peake has a background in the army air corps, a helicopter test pilot with a degree in flight dynamics and evaluation, and speaks in this clip below

The mission is called Principia to celebrate Isaac Newton’s ground-breaking text on physics,Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (“Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy”), which described the principal laws of motion and gravity on which all space travel depends.

See Tim carrying out ESA’s winter survival training

Tim will fly to the ISS as a member of the Expedition 46/47 crew.  He will be launched on a Soyuz from Russia’s Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on 15 December 2015 alongside NASA astronaut Tim Kopra and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko.  They will join the international crew already on the ISS, briefly bringing the number to nine, and then reverting to the more usual complement of six, before returning in May 2016.

Some of the kit preceding Tim’s arrival was destroyed in Space X’s Falcon 9 rocket disaster, and so the back-up kit had to be sent on the Soyuz flight earlier this month. Tim will be conducting experiments on board the ISS, creating a series of films to be used in classrooms around the UK to teach students fundamentals of physics and chemistry, in addition to showcasing aspects of the UK space industry, currently employing over 30,000 people and worth over £11 billion per year to the UK economy.

In this video Tim experiences 8G in centrifuge tests

The mission could engage thousands of students in the UK, and inspire them to view careers in science as dynamic and exciting; something the UK badly needs with shortages of graduates in STEM subjects, reported to reach a shortfall of 100,000 in coming years.

Building a ‘village’ on the moon – ESA Director

Recently appointed ESA director, professor Johann-Dietrich Woerner is, perhaps unfashionably, interested in the moon.

In charge of a €4.4 billion annual budget, the former Chair of the German space agency is ultimately responsible for everything at Esa. Europe’s new observation, weather, communication and navigation satellites; astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS); missions to Mars, Mercury and Jupiter; and a sleepy lander on a duck-shaped comet all come under his remit.

Woerner  vision for a future of space exploration that is both ambitious and audacious. There has been much debate about the virtue of returning to the moon, but not only is Woerner’s vision exciting and dramatic, there’s also something very exciting in how practical the logic is behind it in my view.

Photo credit: Science Photo Lab
Photo credit: Science Photo Lab

When everyone (spaceflightuk included!) is talking about going colonising our first new planet as a species, Mars, and the many challenges involved, we could be seen as forgetting that our closest planetary body is the moon; bigger than an ordinary satellite for a planet our size, really it’s more like  binary planetary system. The moon has many of the same challenges that setting up a base on mars might have, and now scientists are sure that it also has the basic ingredients colonists would need, such as ice water at the poles.

So, the question is: are we going to prove that we can be an interplanetary species by first colonising our closest planetary body – the moon?

“We should look to the future beyond the International Space Station,” he tells me. “We should look for a smaller spacecraft in low-Earth orbit for microgravity research and I propose a Moon village on the far side of the Moon.”

Just the sort of daring vision that took Nasa from a standing start to the Moon in the 1960s, but today – possibly constrained by its political masters – the US space agency appears to be lacking ambition.

“A Moon village shouldn’t just mean some houses, a church and a town hall,” says Woerner. “This Moon village should mean partners from all over the world contributing to this community with robotic and astronaut missions and support communication satellites.”

3D printer

There are good reasons, he says, for going back to the Moon for science as well as using it a stepping-stone to further human exploration of the Solar System.

“The far side of the Moon is very interesting because we could have telescopes looking deep into the Universe, we could do lunar science on the Moon and the international aspect is very special,” he explains. “The Americans are looking to go to Mars very soon – and I don’t see how we can do that – before going to Mars we should test what we could do on Mars on the Moon.”

For example, Woerner suggests, the technology being investigated by Nasa to construct a Mars base using a giant 3D printer would be better tried out on the Moon first. Learning to live on an alien world is going to be tough – but the challenge would be a lot easier, particularly in an emergency, if the extraterrestrial community is only four days away from Earth rather than six months.

Should the moon be our first stepping-stone to being a multi-planet civilisation? Photo credit: Science Photo Lab
Should the moon be our first stepping-stone to being a multi-planet civilisation?
Photo credit: Science Photo Lab

Woerner envisages his Moon village as a multinational settlement involving astronauts, Russian cosmonauts and maybe even Chinese taikonauts. This would considerably extend the relatively limited number of nations involved in the ISS.

“We should have international cooperation, without any limitations, with any countries of the world,” says Woerner. “We have enough Earthly problems between different nations – space can bridge these Earthly problems and the Moon seems to be to be a good proposal.

Experience shows that there is no wall between exploration and practical applications

“Isolating a country is not the right way, a much better solution is to find ways to cooperate in space to strengthen ties between humans on Earth,” he adds, in what could be taken as a veiled criticism of America’s refusal to engage with the Chinese space programme. “If you think about an alien visiting the Earth and seeing what we are doing here, I’m not sure whether they would land.”

Moon in vogue?

Woerner has a robust response for those who criticise money spent on space exploration and astronomical research.

“Experience shows that there is no wall between exploration and practical applications,” he says. “Look at the greenhouse effect – everyone knows what it is and we use satellites to investigate it – but this was not discovered on Earth, it was discovered by an exploration mission to Venus.”

Right now the Moon village idea is just that; an idea, a proposal. No nation or agency has committed any money or mapped out the concept in any detail.

Nasa lost interest in returning to the moon. Photo credit: Science Photo Lab
Nasa lost interest in returning to the moon. Photo credit: Science Photo Lab/NASA

Woerner says he is voicing the idea of a Moon village to encourage discussion about the future of space research, exploration and the applications of space technology. “I will be very happy if someone else has a better idea,” he tells me.

Nevertheless, as one of the world’s most senior and powerful space figures, Woerner’s proposal will be taken seriously. Nasa is still vague about where it plans to fly its new Orion spacecraft – fitted incidentally with an Esa service module – and the Moon would seem to be a suitably inspirational destination.

“In our genes there is something beyond just practical applications,” Woerner says. “We like to discover, to pioneer – this is humankind and this is what brings us into the future.”

Some text taken from BBC interview, re-written for

Preparing for a European Mission to Jupiter


Airbus Defence & Space in France has been selected as the prime industrial contractor for ESA’s Juice mission to Jupiter and its icy moons.

The agency’s Industrial Policy Committee approved the award of the €350.8 million contract on July 16, 2015. Pending the negotiation of contractual details, this should allow work to start by the end of this month. The formal contract signing will take place after the summer break.

The contract covers the industrial activities for the design, development, integration, test, launch campaign, and in-space commissioning of the spacecraft. The Ariane 5 launch is not included and will be procured later from Arianespace.

The spacecraft will be assembled in Toulouse, France, and many other ESA Member States will also be involved in Europe’s first mission to the largest planet in the Solar System.

Juice (JUpiter ICy moons Explorer) was selected in May 2012 as the first Large-class mission within ESA’s Cosmic Vision 2015–25 programme. The spacecraft should be launched in 2022 and arrive in the Jovian system in 2030.

For three and a half years, Juice will sweep around the giant planet, exploring its turbulent atmosphere, enormous magnetosphere, and tenuous set of dark rings, as well as studying the icy moons Ganymede, Europa, and Callisto. All three of these planet-sized satellites are thought to have oceans of liquid water beneath their icy crusts and should provide key clues on the potential for such icy moons to harbour habitable environments.

Gravity assists with Callisto and Ganymede will be used to modify the spacecraft’s trajectory, and two targeted Europa flybys will focus on the composition of non-water-ice material on its frozen surface, and the first subsurface sounding of an icy moon.

Callisto gravity assists will be also used to raise the orbital inclination to almost 30°, providing opportunities to observe Jupiter’s polar regions. The frequent Callisto flybys will enable unique remote observations of the moon and its neighbourhood.

The mission will culminate in a dedicated, eight-month tour around Ganymede, the first time any icy moon has been orbited by a spacecraft. During this period, Juice will perform detailed investigations of the moon and its interaction with the environment.

Juice will be equipped with 10 state-of-the-art instruments, including cameras, spectrometers, an ice-penetrating radar, an altimeter, radio-science experiments, and sensors to monitor the magnetic fields and charged particles in the Jovian system. One further experiment will combine data from the spacecraft telecommunication system and ground-based instruments.

The scientific payload was approved by ESA’s Science Programme Committee in February 2013 and will be developed by teams spanning 16 European countries, the USA and Japan, using national funding

Tim Peake Phones Into Conference

British Astronaut Tim Peake, the first British Astronaut to lice and work on the International Space Station, phoned into the Space Conference UK 2015. Tim had to make the call during his quarantine while he is on standby for the mission prior to his in case he would need to fill-in at the last moment for one of his colleagues. Tim’s mission is scheduled for the end of November.

Tim has done incredible work with outreach programs for young people, which have included a broad range; from a competition to design the mission patch for him, to the Great British Space Dinner Challenge to plan a meal for him to eat in space with the winners working with Heston Blumenthal to develop the meal. During Tuesday’s call, Tim announced the winning schools for the competition to design experiments for him to carry out using the Raspberry Pi computer that he will have onboard the ISS. The winning schools were from Lincolnshire, North Yorkshire, Norfolk and London.

Jeremy Curtis, Head of Education at the UK Space Agency, said: “We’re incredibly impressed with the exciting and innovative Astro Pi proposals we’ve received and look forward to seeing them in action aboard the International Space Station.”

“Not only will these students be learning incredibly useful coding skills, but will get the chance to translate those skills into real experiments that will take place in the unique environment of space.”

In addition to these announcements, Tim talked further about his aspirations for his mission, and contribution to developing the space sector in the UK.

Tim will be flying to the ISS on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, the most reliable method to date. The Soyuz craft were developed in the 60’s under the Soviet space program, and it’s a fascinating testament to their creators that they have this record and are still the best way to get to ISS, but also a sign of the failure of any other systems to be developed, and just how difficult getting into space actually is.


Soyuz spacecraft

Orbital module (A)

1 docking mechanism, 2 Kurs antenna, 4 Kurs antenna, 3 television transmission antenna, 5 camera, 6 hatch

Descent module (B)

7 parachute compartment, 8 periscope, 9 porthole, 11 heat shield

Service module (C)

10 and 18 attitude control engines, 21 oxygen tank,12 Earth sensors, 13 Sun sensor, 14 solar panel attachment point, 16 Kurs antenna, 15 thermal sensor, 17 main propulsion, 20 fuel tanks, 19 communication antenna