Lord Sainsbury announces UK commitment to next phase of Europe Aurora Space Plan

Aurora: en route to Mars and the Moon
1 October 2004

BNSC Press Release. Science Minister Lord Sainsbury today announced the UK’s commitment to the next stage of the European Space Exploration Programme (ESEP) 'Aurora'.

The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) will invest £5 million on behalf of the UK in the European Space Agency’s (ESA) preparatory phase for Aurora.

Aurora is the framework proposed by ESA for the long-term exploration of the Solar System, with the aim of a human mission to Mars in 2033. Its two main themes are the development of human technologies to eventually take humans to Mars, and the robotic exploration of Mars as a precursor to the human mission.

Lord Sainsbury said today: "I am delighted to announce that PPARC will take forward the UK’s investment in the preparatory element of the Aurora programme. This subscription will make the UK one of the leading contributors to this next phase up to early 2006. As well as the science benefits, this programme could develop valuable new technology in autonomous robotics, which is why the UK places such emphasis on this approach to space exploration."

The UK investment, along with subscriptions from other member states, will enable ESA to:

  • Define the roadmap for Aurora.
  • Begin preparations for the first robotic missions.
  • Produce costed proposals to see the first missions through to launch.
The Aurora Programme
Aurora Programme

The information gained from the preparatory phase will enable all member states to decide what role they wish to take in the final, implementation stage for Aurora.

Lord Sainsbury, speaking at a press conference featuring leading members of the science and industrial community, added: "Our long-standing participation in ESA’s space science programme remains central to our programme to answer fundamental questions about the origins and history of our Universe. We have clear scientific targets for our space programme, and over this next, critical period, I want British scientists and industry to work closely with ESA so that the Aurora programme is realistic and focuses on the key scientific issues. Space exploration has always been a voyage of discovery and today could be the start of another exciting journey which greatly expands our knowledge of the world in which we live."

Notes to editors

1. BNSC is a partnership of Government Departments and Research Councils with an interest in the development or exploitation of space technologies. BNSC is the UK Government body responsible for UK civil space policy, to help gain the best possible scientific, economic and social benefits from putting space to work.

2. Aurora is an ESA programme to explore the Solar System in all its aspects, particularly Mars. Preparatory studies have already been conducted into the programme with the UK (PPARC) contributing 10% (€1.4 million) of the cost.

3. For the UK, the main science interests in Aurora are:

  • to study the possibility of extraterrestrial biology, giving us insight into our own biology
  • to better understand the formation and evolution of solar systems
  • to understand our own planet better

4. The science discoveries and technology developments are intended to put Europe in a position in a decade or so to decide whether to establish a human presence on Mars.

5. Earlier this year, ESA proposed to member delegations to undertake a ‘Preparatory Space Exploration Programme – Aurora’ which would have two goals: first; to refine the overall programme roadmap and second to begin preparation of the early robotic missions where the scientific and technological goals are well defined.

6. After a meeting of the Aurora Board of Participants in July 2004 (at which the UK is represented by PPARC) a programme of work was agreed and a declaration opened for individual member nations to subscribe to this preparatory (‘interim’) programme. The open period for this declaration closed on 30 September 2004.

7. This interim programme will undertake a range of activities to be let via competitive tender to academia and industry and to be completed by 2006. The output will be a costed definition both for the overall programme and for the first scientifically oriented robotic missions.

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