The Aurora programme is a human spaceflight programme of the European Space Agency 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.
The first decade is planned to focus on robotic missions.
ESA describes some Aurora programme missions as "Flagship" missions. The first Flagship mission is ExoMars, a robotic mission to Mars. It will involve development of a Mars orbiter, a descent module and a Mars rover.
Flagship missions planned as part of Aurora include (as of September 30, 2005):
Arrow missions are technology demonstrator missions focused on developing a certain technology needed for the Flagship missions. Approved Arrow missions so far (as of January 30, 2003):
Call for ideas on NEXT mission
On 9 March 2007, ESA invited proposals for its Next Exploration Science and Technology (NEXT) mission, which might launch in 2015-2018. NEXT would demonstrate key enabling capabilities, such as descent and precision landing, needed for a future Mars Sample Return mission.
The proposed Aurora roadmap (as of September 30, 2005. This roadmap can, and most likely will, go through revisions):
Only ExoMars has been formally approved during the December 2005 Ministerial conference, which will postpone to a later date or cancel altogether the Earth re-entry vehicle/capsule, which was proposed for 2007.
The human part of the program has been challenged by the main ESA contributors (France, Germany and Italy), making it quite possible that the whole Aurora Programme will be refocused on robotic-only exploration of Mars.
Published - July 2009
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