Since its inception, ExoMars has gone through several phases of planning with various proposals for landers, orbiters, launch vehicles, and international cooperation planning, such as the defunct 2009 Mars Exploration Joint Initiative (MEJI) with the United States. Originally, the ExoMars concept consisted of a large robotic rover being part of ESA's Aurora programme as a Flagship mission and was approved by Europe's space ministers in December 2005. Originally conceived as a rover with a stationary ground station, ExoMars was planned to launch in 2011 aboard a Russian Soyuz Fregat rocket.
In 2007, Canadian-based technology firm MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) was selected for a one-million-euro contract with EADS Astrium of Britain to design and build a prototype Mars rover chassis for the European Space Agency. Astrium was also contracted to design the final rover.
On July 2009 NASA and ESA signed the Mars Joint Exploration Initiative, which proposed to utilize an Atlas rocket launcher instead of a Soyuz, which significantly altered the technical and financial setting of the ExoMars mission. On June 19, when the rover was still planned to piggyback on the Mars Trace Gas Orbiter, it was reported that a prospective agreement would require that ExoMars lose enough weight to fit aboard the Atlas launch vehicle with NASA's orbiter.
Then the mission was combined with other projects to a multi-spacecraft programme divided over two Atlas V-launches: the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) was merged into the project, piggybacking a stationary meteorological lander slated for launch in 2016. It was also proposed to include a second rover, the MAX-C.
In August 2009 it was announced that the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and ESA had signed a contract that included cooperation on two Mars exploration projects: Russia's Fobos-Grunt project and ESA's ExoMars. Specifically, ESA secured a Russian Proton rocket as a "backup launcher" for the ExoMars rover, which would include Russian-made parts.
In December 17, 2009, the ESA governments gave their final approval to a two-part Mars exploration programme to be conducted with NASA, confirming their commitment to spend €850 million ($1.23 billion) on missions in 2016 and 2018.
In April 2011, because of a budgeting crisis, a proposal was announced to cancel the accompanying MAX-C rover, and fly only one rover in 2018 that would be larger than either of the vehicles in the paired concept. One suggestion was that the new vehicle would be built in Europe and take a mix of European and U.S. instruments. NASA would provide the rocket to deliver it into Mars and provide the 'Sky Crane' landing system. Despite the proposed reorganisation, the goals of the 2018 mission opportunity would have stayed broadly the same.
Under the FY2013 Budget President Obama released on February 13, 2012, NASA terminated its participation in ExoMars due to budgetary cuts in order to pay for the cost overruns of the James Webb Space Telescope. With NASA's funding for this project completely cancelled, most of these plans had to be restructured.
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