The Aurora programme is a human spaceflight programme of the European Space Agency (ESA) 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.
In the early years the Aurora Programme planned for flagship missions such as ExoMars and NEXT., and arrow missions for key technology demonstrations, such as Earth re-entry vehicle/capsule and Mars aerocapture demonstrator.
In recent years ESA has increasingly used the name Aurora Exploration Programme, or simply Exploration Programme. Although human spaceflight has remained a long-term goal of the programme, with some basic technology development in this area, the thrust has been on implementation of the ExoMars mission and preparations for an international Mars Sample Return Mission. Due to funding shortages on both sides of the Atlantic, these plans for robotic exploration of Mars are currently (2011) increasingly made in cooperation with NASA.
At a meeting in Plymouth on 29-30 June 2009, ESA and NASA created a Mars Exploration Joint Initiative (MEJI) with the aim of planning collaborative Mars missions for 2016, 2018 and 2020, and leading to the return of samples from Mars in the 2020s. The previous main effort of the Aurora Programme, the ExoMars mission, is not explicitly part of the MEJI collaboration and unlikely to be implemented as originally foreseen, but major parts of its science instruments are likely to be embedded in the MEJI collaboration. However, the Italian Space Agency (ASI), a major financer of the Aurora programme, has voiced scepticism regarding the proposed MEJI collaboration, in particular its lack of independent European demonstration of key capabilities for future planetary exploration.
The Aurora programme has currently two planned missions, possibly in collaboration with the Russian Federal Space Agency. These are planned for launch in 2016 and 2018. For more information, see the article ExoMars.
Read more about Aurora Programme: Timeline
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