Tag Archives: Airbus

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.

Airbus Plans Reusable Rocket

Airbus Plans Reusable Rocket

French aerospace company Airbus announced its plans to build a reusable rocket, (well, partly reusable) named Adeline, to deliver supplies and people into low-earth orbit. The future of commercial spaceflight depends on someone cracking this, and now no fewer than six companies are now trying to get in on the reusable spacecraft game—and a few are already practically there.

The reusable portion of the Airbus rocket. Photo credit Airbus Space and Defence.
The reusable portion of the Airbus rocket. Photo credit Airbus Space and Defence.

The incentives are obvious: Reusable spacecraft will dramatically lower the cost of getting things into space. If you don’t have to build a new rocket or a new crew capsule every time you blast off, space travel becomes a question of mere fuel efficiency. That’ll make it much more feasible for companies to deliver things like satellites into orbit and people to the International Space Station…and beyond, if we’re to trust Elon Musk’s vision for our Mars-colonizing future.

Some companies are focusing on developing reusable spaceplanes that will function much like NASA’s partially-reusable shuttles did, transporting space tourists and astronauts to their (hopefully not final) destinations. Others are focusing on the delivery model.

Many of these plans (particularly from Space X) rely on inventing new and difficult technology, and one wonders if UK outfit Starchaser Industries hasn’t got it right with the simplicity of using parachutes rather than spending hundreds of millions developing something new. However, Named after Alan Shepard (the first American in space) the New Shepard is Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos’s foray into the reusable rocket market. Bezos’s company Blue Origin ran the reusable rocket’s first test flight on April 29 this year, successfully launching and recovering the crew capsule but failing to recover the rocket.

Blue Origin launch. Photo credit Blue Origin.
Blue Origin launch. Photo credit Blue Origin.

New Shepard shepherded its capsule to about 58 miles in altitude before detaching and attempting a vertical landing. “Unfortunately we didn’t get to recover the propulsion module because we lost pressure in our hydraulic system on descent,” Bezos wrote in an announcement.

We all know of Space X’s famous landing attempts for their rocket booster…you do have the feeling that they’re going to crack this one day, but I wonder what the total bill will be for development? The fact is that developing a new technology such as that is only the domain of billionaires such as Musk, but watch this space…

20 Facts About Rosetta and the Philae Lander

picture credit, ESA
picture credit, ESA


1. Gets its name from the famous Rosetta stone that led to the deciphering of Egyptian hieroglyphics almost 200 years ago

2. Will help scientists unlock the mysteries of the oldest building blocks of our Solar System – the comets

3. Changed target: its original target was comet 46P/Wirtanen, but after postponement of the initial launch a new one was found: Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

4. Was launched on 2 March 2004 and travelled 10 years to reach its rendezvous point Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

5. Has a mass of around three tonnes and carries 11 scientific instruments

6. Is the first solar-powered probe to fly beyond the orbit of Jupiter thanks to its two giant solar panels equipped with advanced solar-cell technology that allows it to operate over 800 million kilometres from the Sun, where sunlight levels are only 4% of those on Earth

7. Will fly an artificial tri-angle orbit around the comet and follow it closely as it approaches the Sun

8. Passed by the asteroid belt and imaged two asteroids on its journey to intercept the comet: 2867 Steins on 5 September 2008 and 21 Lutetia on 10 July 2010

9. Was put into a hibernation mode for two and a half years to travel in energy-saving mode, using the equivalent power of six light bulbs. The three-axis stabilisation attitude controlled spacecraft changed into a spin stabilised mode pointing to the Sun. During this period, Rosetta had to fend for itself and survive without any assistance from ground

10. Has to withstand temperature variations of -270°C to +100°C, surviving close to the Sun, at the distance of Venus, and in deep space

11. Will use optical navigation techniques when nearing its target, so it will autonomously keep the comet always in focus of the instruments

12. Will be the first spacecraft to examine from close proximity how a frozen comet is activated and transformed by the warmth of the Sun

13. Will obtain the first detailed images from a comet’s surface in close orbit

14. Will analyse and map the comet and determine the best place for its Philae lander to touch down

15. Will be the first spacecraft to deliver a lander to the Surface of a comet



16. Is named for the island in the river Nile on which an obelisk was found that had a bilingual inscription that helped to translate the hieroglyphs of the Rosetta stone

17. Weighs 100 kg and carries ten scientific instruments, including a drill to sample subsurface material

18. Will be released from a height of about one kilometre. Touchdown will take place at walking speed – less than one metre per second

19. Will be anchored by a harpoon to the surface once it touches down; the self-adjusting landing gear will ensure that it stays upright, even on a slope and its feet will drill into the ground to secure it to the comet’s surface in the low gravity environment

20. Will obtain the first images from a comet’s surface and make the first in situ analysis to learn what a comet is made from 10679tl

Text and featured image courtesy of Airbus Space and Defence