Studying alien worlds like Venus, Mars or Saturn’s moon Titan helps us to place our own world in context and to answer some of the questions that have fascinated humans for centuries, such as
- How did Earth and our Solar System evolve?
- Where are we in the Universe?
- Where are we going?
- Where did life come from?
- Are we alone in the universe?
ESA’s exploration of the Solar System is focused on understanding Earth’s relationship with the other planets, an essential stepping-stone for exploring the wider universe. In the near future, research is expected to shed new light on planets around other stars and detailed knowledge of our own Solar System will be invaluable for interpreting new results.
Cooperation with Russia
On ESA’s Integral gamma-ray observatory, up to 27% of the observation time is allocated to Russian scientists in exchange for Russia having agreed to launch Integral on a Proton launcher from Baikonur in October 2002. This enabled Russian scientists working at the Integral Science Data Centre in IKI (Space Research Institute) in Moscow to make a number of important discoveries about the life and death of stars in our galaxy. Those findings received wide coverage in numerous scientific publications. Russian scientists closely liaise with the Integral Data Centre in Geneva and with ESA's European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt.
Russia has a long history of designing spacecraft for interplanetary missions. That is why, when ESA announced plans to launch a mission to Mars, Russian scientists offered their ideas for a set of scientific instruments, originally developed and qualified for the Russian Mars-96 mission. In fact, five of the seven scientific experiments on board ESA's Mars Express orbiter were originally designed for the Mars-96 mission. The refurbished flight-spare models were used for Mars Express.
Some of the instruments installed on board ESA’s Venus Express spacecraft, launched in 2005, are similar to those on Mars Express. Like Mars Express, Venus Express was carried into space from Baikonur on a Soyuz launcher operated by European-Russian company Starsem.
Recently, fresh ideas have tabled for cooperation between the Russian Phobos Sample Return mission (called ‘Phobos Grunt’ in Russian) and ESA’s ExoMars project. Synergy would benefit both missions – the ExoMars rover could greatly extend its lifetime on the martian surface and the Russian interplanetary probe could get more reliable guidance and control.