Russia ready to sign on to Mars project

Dec. 26, 2012 at 6:00 PM

MOSCOW, Dec. 26 (UPI) -- Russia's Federal Space Agency says it could sign an agreement in the first quarter of 2012 on participating in a European Mars research project.

Roscosmos General Director Vladimir Popovkin said the agency is ready to sign the long anticipated agreement with the European Space Agency, RIA Novosti reported Wednesday.

"The agreement will be signed," Popovkin said. "We are starting financing this project."

The ExoMars program -- to send an orbiter to Mars in 2016, followed by a robot rover two years later was -- originally a joint project of the ESA and NASA, but NASA cut its participation, citing funding issues, and said it could not provide its Atlas rocket for the launch.

Russia then stepped in and offered to provide its Proton launch rockets and scientific equipment in exchange for full membership in the project.

The signing of the agreement with the European Space Agency had been expected in November but was delayed due to "the complexity of official procedures adopted by ESA," Popovkin said.

"The text of the document will be agreed 'up to a single comma' by January 20," he said.

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