ESA’s director-general, Jan Woerner © DLR German Aerospace Center
ESA’s director-general, Jan Woerner © DLR German Aerospace Center

Space ministers meet to decide fate of ExoMars

Europe’s research ministers are meeting in Lucerne, Switzerland, to decide whether or not to move forward with plans to land a robot rover on Mars in 2021.

The UK-assembled vehicle would search for life on Mars by sampling soil drilled from under the surface.

However, the project is already behind schedule, and now requires another €400m to be sure of meeting its launch deadline.

Ministers from the member states of the European Space Agency (ESA) will discuss the rover’s fate over the next two days.

They must also review a range of programmes valued in total at around €11bn.

The so-called ExoMars rover has suffered organisational problems throughout its development history, and has come close to being abandoned on a few occasions.

In May, it was announced that its launch date would slip by a further two years because a number of industrial and scientific teams could not be sure of delivering their hardware on time.

A technical review has recently concluded that the project is now running true to its new timeline and could continue to if the necessary funds are received.

ESA’s director-general, Jan Woerner, has told member states that the only way to proceed with the rover is to give it full and proper financial support. Or none at all.

He said: “Either we do it or we stop it, and I’m in favour of doing it.”

There are a host of other key decisions to come out of the Ministerial Council, covering all manner of different satellite projects.