The Aurora programme
is a human spaceflight programme
of the European Space Agency
established in 2001 with the primary objectives of creating, and then implementing, a European long-term plan for exploration
of the Solar System
using robotic spacecraft
and human spaceflight
. A secondary objective is to search for life beyond the Earth
Member states commit to participation in the Aurora programme for five-year periods (the first is 2005-2009), after which they can change their level of participation or pull out entirely.
The first decade is planned to focus on robotic missions.
ESA describes some Aurora programme missions as "Flagship" missions. The first Flagship mission is ExoMars
, a robotic mission to Mars
. It will involve development of a Mars orbiter
, a descent module
and a Mars rover
Flagship missions planned as part of Aurora include (as of September 30 2005):
are technology demonstrator missions focused on developing a certain technology needed for the Flagship missions. Approved Arrow missions so far (as of January 30 2003
- Earth re-entry vehicle/capsule, a step in the preparations for the Mars Sample Return mission.
- Mars aerocapture demonstrator, to further develop the technologies for using a planet's atmosphere to brake into orbit. This particular mission seems to have been revised into an expanded mission to demonstrate "aerobraking/aerocapture, solar electric propulsion and soft landing" to be launched in 2018.
Call for ideas on NEXT mission
On 9 March 2007
, ESA invited proposals for its Next Exploration Science and Technology (NEXT) mission, which might launch in 2015-2018. NEXT would demonstrate key enabling capabilities, such as descent and precision landing, needed for a future Mars Sample Return mission.
The proposed Aurora roadmap (as of September 30 2005
. This roadmap can, and most likely will, go through revisions):
- 2007 – Earth re-entry vehicle/capsule
- 2011 – ExoMars, a Mars rover. The scientific objectives include exobiological studies as well as study of the surface of Mars.
- 2014 – Human mission technologies demonstrator(s) to validate technologies for orbital assembly and docking, life support and human habitation
- 2016 – Mars Sample Return mission with NASA
- 2018 – A technology demonstrator for aerobraking/aerocapture, solar electric propulsion and soft landing (formerly envisaged as a smaller Arrow-class mission to be launched in 2010)
- 2024 – Human mission to the Moon
- 2026 – Automatic mission to Mars
- 2030/2033 – First human mission to Mars, as a split mission
Only ExoMars has been formally approved during the December 2005 Ministerial conference, which will postpone to a later date or cancel altogether the Earth re-entry vehicle/capsule, which was proposed for 2007.
The human part of the program has been challenged by the main ESA contributors (France, Germany and Italy), making it quite possible that the whole Aurora Programme will be refocused on robotic-only exploration of Mars.
- 2013 – ExoMars, a Mars rover. The scientific objectives include exobiological studies as well as study of the surface of Mars.
- 2016? – Mars Sample Return mission with NASA
- 2018? – A technology demonstrator for aerobraking/aerocapture, solar electric propulsion and soft landing (formerly envisaged as a smaller Arrow-class mission to be launched in 2010)
- 2026? – Automatic mission to Mars