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Aurora space exploration

Why explore space? Man has always sought to understand and explore his environment and space exploration is merely the fulfilment of this on the largest scale possible. In so doing, answers may be found to such fundamental questions about how life arose, whether it exists elsewhere and whether we are truly alone in the Universe. Space exploration has resulted in huge scientific and technological developments which benefit humanity.

The Aurora programme - The Moon and Mars. Credit: ESA
The Aurora programme - The Moon and Mars.
Credit: ESA

A manned mission to Mars is a long-term ambition of the European exploration programme. The three strands to the ESA programme that lead to achieving this objective. These are:

  • The Aurora Programme will ensure Europe plays a key role in international efforts to explore Mars; a programme to robotically explore Mars, to gather information about the Martian environment and to understand whether life has ever existed on Mars. It will deliver knowledge and technology critical for future manned mission. The first mission is ExoMars. The future challenge is to undertake an automated Mars Sample Return mission. The UK is a major contributor to this programme and has a national programme to complement the ESA programme.
  • A European contribution to the International Space Station (ISS) - through the exploitation and utilisation of the Station experience is gained of long duration human spaceflight and enables technology for manned missions beyond low Earth orbit to be tested. A return mission to Mars will take approximately two years such long periods of isolation, reduced gravity and confinement will impose huge mental, physical, emotional and psychological demands on astronauts. In addition the ISS provides an ideal platform to undertake microgravity research in health research, innovative materials and processes, plasma physics, exobiology research to name but a few. The UK does not currently participate in this programme.
  • A European lunar programme drawing strongly on existing experience and know-how, while developing new technologies which can be deployed in later exploration missions. Technologies to be developed include those that enable safe automated landings, manipulate payloads and transports payloads or humans across the lunar surface. The UK does not currently participate in this programme. 
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The UK Space Agency

The UK Space Agency is at the heart of UK efforts to explore and benefit from space.

The UK's thriving space sector contributes £9.1 billion a year to the UK economy and directly employs 28,900 with an average growth rate of almost 7.5%. (The Size and Health of the UK Space Sector 2010/11, preliminary survey results.)

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