Europe hopes to save Mars mission

March 15, 2012 at 6:21 PM

PARIS, March 15 (UPI) -- Member state delegations to the European Space Agency said Thursday the agency will press ahead with its 2016 and 2018 Mars missions despite funding problems.

Delegates voiced their support for the plans to send a satellite and rover to the Red Planet during a council meeting in Paris Thursday, the BBC reported.

The ExoMars project, approved in 2005, has been in limbo since the United States pulled out because of funding reductions faced by NASA, which was to have been a partner in the mission.

Russia has stepped in as new partner for EU members and will provide two launch rockets for the mission and well as filling other key roles.

But the funding problems remain.

The ESA had originally budgeted the ExoMars projects at $1.3 billion, but NASA's withdrawal will probably add several hundred million euros to the final cost.

While funding options are considered the time window for getting the orbiter ready for the 2016 mission is narrowing, officials said.

Senior ESA officials will meet with Italian space manufacturer Thales Alenia Space in the next two weeks to determine whether the preparation schedule is still feasible, the BBC reported.

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