Monday, March 21, 2011

NASA and ESA Break-up over Budgets

The honeymoon is over for NASA and the European Space Agency. Tight budgets at NASA have put ambitious joint space missions on the chopping block.

In recent years, NASA and ESA have been planning joint missions to places like Jupiter's moons and Mars. The idea was that by joining forces, they could mount bigger missions than either could afford alone.

But with NASA's budget expected to stay flat in the coming years, it now appears unable to pay its share of the bill for these missions, calling their future into question.

NASA planetary science chief James Green announced in a 17 March meeting with outer planet scientists that the agency is postponing indefinitely (pdf) an orbiter for Jupiter's icy moon Europa, which may harbour an ocean of liquid water beneath its surface.
(Image: ESA/NASA/M Carroll)

The Europa orbiter was to be one-half of a joint mission to Jupiter's neighbourhood to launch around 2020.

The European Space Agency is still pondering whether to go forward with its half, an orbiter for another icy Jupiter moon called Ganymede.

ESA and NASA have also been planning to send a pair of rovers to Mars around 2018. But NASA is no longer sure if it can afford its own rover, which would have collected rock samples to be retrieved and returned to Earth by a later mission in the 2020s.

NASA contributions also look unlikely for other possible joint missions, including the International X-ray Observatory, which would study black holes, and the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) to detect gravitational waves.

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