Press Release

Aurora – to join or not to join

By SpaceRef Editor
July 21, 2004
Filed under , , ,
Aurora – to join or not to join

The question as to whether the UK should participate in the European
Space Agency’s future Exploration Programme [Aurora] will be debated
further today when leading scientists and industrialists present their
case to a distinguished audience of government officials, including
representatives of the Parliamentary Space Committee, at this year’s
International Farnborough Air show.

Prof. John Zarnecki of the Planetary & Space Sciences Research
Institute at the Open University, a key member of the Task Group
initiated by the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council [PPARC]
to evaluate the science case for UK involvement, said,” Understanding
how readily life can evolve in the Universe and determining how common
are environments that could support life is of profound scientific and
philosophical importance. What’s more UK scientists can add real value
to this programme and take a lead role in many aspects. Aurora will
deliver world-class science. Not to be involved would ring the death
knell for the UK planetary space science community”.

Beyond the immediate science case for the UK’s involvement Dr. Sarah
Dunkin from the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and Vice President of the
Royal Astronomical Society warned the audience of the impact on current
and future generations of scientists. “There’s a real and present
danger that our younger scientists will simply up sticks and move to
other countries that are involved”. Dunkin added,” Perhaps of even
more significance is the impact on the next generation of scientists –
pupils at school right now. It’s an accepted fact that space has an
inspirational effect on children, enthusing them to pursue further
education in science and technology and eventually full-time careers.
Removing that inspiration factor would be a real turn-off”.

The potential for UK industry will be strongly argued by Dr. Mike
Healy, Director Earth Observation, Navigation and Science at EADS
Astrium. “Like our science colleagues UK industry can make a
significant contribution to Aurora. We have acknowledged leadership in
entry, descent and landing systems and these will be key technologies
required for Aurora.
Not to capitalise on such technology would be a complete waste of all
the expertise that went into the Beagle and [Cassini] Huygens

ESA conducted a ‘Phase A’ study programme, to which the UK
contributed through the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council
[PPARC], which aimed to identify the early missions and likely
technology requirements of Aurora. ESA is now requesting additional
funding of 39M Euro from member states to sustain the programme over the
next 18 months and a decision is required by 30 September 2004. Member
states, including the UK, will have to decide whether to participate in
the full Aurora programme by the next ESA Ministerial meeting planned
for June 2005.

Commenting on the prospect of the UK becoming involved in Aurora Prof.
Ian Halliday, PPARC Chief Executive said,” The science case for Aurora
is very strong, as acknowledged by PPARC’s Science Committee. But we
[PPARC] do not have unlimited funds and we have to tension this against
other science priorities. To participate in Aurora at a level that would
capitalise on the technology leadership we have gained through missions
such as Beagle will require government support. Time is not on our side,
we need to decide pretty soon, otherwise our expertise will be eroded
and we will be overtaken by others”.

PPARC Aurora programme, see

ESA Aurora programme, see

SpaceRef staff editor.