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Roscosmos and ESA collaborate for robotic Mars research

10 April 2012

Russian Federal Space Agency Roscosmos has agreed to collaborate with the European Space Agency (ESA) for the ExoMars project on Mars exploration following NASA's decision to withdraw as a partner in February 2012.

The space council of the Russian Academy of Sciences has also approved Russia's participation in the project.

Roscosmos head Vladimir Popovkin's spokeswoman, Anna Vedishcheva, said: "The sides consider this project feasible and promising."

"They are to sign the deal by year-end," Vedishcheva said.

Under the agreement, Roscosmos will provide ESA with Proton carrier rockets to launch the ExoMars missions and additional equipment in exchange for sharing scientific data secured from the mission.

ExoMars comprises two missions that will be led by ESA in 2016 with the launch of an orbiting satellite to study methane and trace gases in the Martian region.

The second will be an Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module (EDM), which could become Europe's first craft to land on Mars.

Initially, the project predicted the launch of a mission to Mars in 2016, followed by the landing of two rovers, one from the US and the other from ESA in 2018, which was dropped after NASA refused to provide Atlas carrier for the launch following budget cutbacks.

Astrium's UK division has been conducting tests to develop prototypes for ESA's landing vehicle which will be equipped with a stereoscopic camera acting as the rover's eyes.

The rover will be deployed to study Martian soil samples collected from the underneath the surface for molecules linked with life, which include amino acids.

ESA said it has allocated €1bn for its share on ExoMars mission, while Russia's contributions are expected to be partly covered by insurance payments of about RUB1.2bn ($40.7m) for the loss of Phobos-Grunt.