EU to the Moon: Europe’s Space Agency Eyes Mars and the Sun for 2020

Written by | Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020

Europe’s space agency, now boosted by more funding, believes that the problems it faced in 2019 are a matter of the past. Last year saw the European Space Agency (ESA) suffer serious and at times embarrassing setbacks. But now unveiling an ambitious and demanding year ahead, ESA Director General Jan Woerner on Wednesday (15 January) told a conference in Paris that 2020 wouldn’t be “just another year. It’s a very special year,” and added that “everybody is talking about climate change as the predominant challenge. Yes, it is predominant, but we have also other challenges.”
In 2020, ESA plans to send an orbiter to the Sun, a lander-rover mission to Mars, and a reprogrammable satellite into low Earth orbit. This busy schedule comes following a year in which ESA had to deal with problems with its ExoMars mission and saw its Galileo navigation system (European version of GPS) suffer a seven-day outage. The ESA Director General also said that on top of its continued research on the environment on Earth, ESA aims to take a leading role in tackling space junk, which include mostly rocket parts and dead satellites that litter orbits around Earth.
ESA will still be faced with a number of challenges, though lack of money is surely not one of them. Last November, Space+19 ministerial meeting in Seville, Spain, agreed to obligate a record 14.4 billion euros for the agency’s five-year budget, with additional 100 million euros announced just last week, making the new total 14.5 billion euros. The increase is roughly a 21 percent increase over the previous budget allocated in 2016. Woerner said ESA remains confident that it will be ready to launch its ExoMars lander-rover mission by this summer’s launch window despite technical failures experienced in 2019. Parachutes that were designed to slow the lander’s descent ripped not once, but in two high-altitude balloon tests. David Parker, Director of Human and Robotic Exploration at ESA, told the media that four ground tests have already been conducted successfully and now two high-altitude tests are being planned for February and March.

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