NEXT exploration mission - call for ideas

NEXT would be an intermediate step between ExoMars and Mars Sample Return
9 March 2007

ESA's Aurora Space Exploration Programme invites proposals for the Next Exploration Science and Technology (NEXT) mission. Envisaged for launch in the period 2015-2018, the technological goal of NEXT is to demonstrate key enabling capabilities, such as descent and precision landing, as needed for a future Mars Sample Return mission.

Proposals and suggestions are sought from Industry, Technical Centres and the Scientific Community for mission concepts that would combine, in the spirit of exploration, technology development with first class science.

The Aurora Programme is composed of two main elements: a Core Programme, which aims to establish the ability of Europe to participate as a recognised partner in future international space exploration endeavours, and an Exploration Robotic Missions component with a first mission, ExoMars, which is now being implemented for launch in 2013.

At the time of the Aurora Programme approval, at the ESA Ministerial Council in December 2005 in Berlin, Ministers also recognised a Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission as the major milestone in the medium term for the exploration of Mars. Consequently the Core Programme includes significant technology development activities for the preparation of a MSR mission.

MSR ascent module
Artist's view of the Mars Sample Return ascent module lifting off from Mars

In view of the large financial resources required by such a mission it is assumed that MSR will be implemented in co-operation with international partners. Europe therefore needs to determine what the challenges are and which of the enabling capabilities would like to contribute to the MSR mission, consistent with its long term ambitions and goals.

To this end the Core Programme has initiated an MSR Phase A2 System Study, building on the results of two previous Phase A1 studies. In this frame Entry, Descent and Soft/Precision Landing on the one hand, and Autonomous Rendezvous and Docking/Capture on the other, were identified as key elements of interest for Europe.

As an intermediate step, after ExoMars and before the international context will allow the initiation of a MSR mission, the Executive considers proposing to the next Ministerial Council an 'ExoMars class' mission, for launch in the 2015–2018 timeframe.

Such a mission would demonstrate in particular key MSR technologies and achieve a step change in the European capabilities over and above present possible contributions to the MSR mission, whilst also providing an opportunity for scientific investigations. Ideas that would include aspects relevant to the human exploration scenario are welcome.

The mission will constitute the next mission of the Aurora Programme. As a working title this mission is named Next Exploration Science and Technology (NEXT) mission. It is the purpose of this Call for Ideas to collect from Industry, Technical Centres and the Scientific Community proposals/suggestions for mission concepts that would combine, in the spirit of exploration, technology development (focussed, but possibly not limited to the areas mentioned above) with first class science.

Preferably ideas should be submitted electronically, using the form provided and also available on this website. Documents should be sent as attachments to the following address: explorationcall @ esa.int not later than 13 April 2007.

For further information:

Mr. D. Vennemann
Future Programme Division
Directorate of Human Spaceflight, Microgravity and Exploration
ESTEC HME-HF
Keplerlaan 1
PO Box 299
2200 AG Noordwijk ZH
The Netherlands
e-mail: Dietrich.Vennemann @ esa.int

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