EU ministers gather for European Space Agency Council triennial meeting

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The European Space Agency Council holds its triennial meeting at the ministerial level in Paris with plans to move the Mars Sample Return and Lunar Gateway missions to the next level and decide on the fate of the International Space Station (ISS).

The new Mars mission, a joint ESA-NASA enterprise to be conducted between 2020 and 2030, will collect samples on the planet and bring them back to Earth for a wide-ranging and thorough analysis. Previous missions have analyzed Mars samples with robotic equipment, which limited the scope of the tests. NASA and the ESA signed a Statement of Intent in Apr 2018 at the Berlin Airshow. The timeline and details are likely to be outlined at the December meeting.

At the same meeting the ministers will be briefed on the evolving plans for the launch, assembly, and operations of the Lunar Gateway, a human-tended space station in high orbit around the Moon. Its backers argue that the area of Space around the Moon can be an effective location from which to travel to other destinations in the Solar System, such as the Moon or Mars. The International Space Station partners, ESA, NASA, Roscosmos, JAX and CSA have signed on for the ride. The spacecraft and crew capsules for the mission are under development. NASA’s delays and cost overruns with its Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System push the envisioned 2019 target for Exploration Mission-1 into the realm of wishful thinking.

The ISS partner countries appeared to lean toward deorbiting the space laboratory when agreed funding ran out in 2024 in order to free up money for new missions. Space News reported in Oct 2018 that Officials from ESA, JAXA and Roscosmos are showing an interest in extending the ISS beyond 2024, perhaps to 2030, even as NASA seeks to end direct federal funding of the station in 2025. The partners describe the extension as a means of maximizing the investment they’ve made in the ISS as a platform for research and preparation for missions beyond Earth orbit.

Mars Sample Return (ESA)

NASA updates Lunar Gateway plans (NASA Dec 2018)

ISS partners show interest in station extension (SpaceNews Oct 2018)

NASA-ESA Statement of Intent for Mars Sample Return (Planetary News May 2018)

Date written/update: 2018-11-13