Russian space agency Roscosmos today announced that it had agreed in principle to undertake a number joint missions with the European Space Agency. The agreement was reached at a meeting in Moscow between Vladimir Popovkin, the head of Roscosmos and Jean-Jacques Dordain, the ESA’s Director General.
The first, and most headline-worthy, is a mission to Jupiter that will also include a stopover at one of Jupiter’s moons. The mission – known as JUICE (Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer) – is likely to take place after 2020, and replace a planned joint ESA-NASA mission that looks like it won’t get off the ground in the near future.
Other joint missions planned include one to Earth’s moon that will attempt to collect samples of soil from the Moon and return them to Earth for analysis, and another to Venus to investigate its atmosphere. Most of the missions agreed are expected to take place sometime between 2016 and 2020.
- Speaking to the mission involved, the Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer mission would incorporate the ESA's Ganymede orbiter from the larger European Jupiter System Mission/Laplace, shifting to a focus on the moons of Europa and Ganymede. There was also a Russian proposal to launch a lander to Europa, its communications being relayed back to Earth by the EJSM/L probes, but no mention was made of that.
Speaking of the goal of the space agencies involved, this would be the first space probe into the outer solar system not mounted primarily by NASA. The ESA did contribute extensively to NASA's Cassini probe in Saturn, producing even the Huygens lander on the moon of Titan, but it hadn't launched any independent missions of its own. As for the Soviet and Russian space agencies, unmanned probe efforts to date have ventured no further out than Mars, in these cases on unsuccessfully. The ESA's confidence in its ability to support such a distant mission says much about its evaluation of its capabilities.</li>
</li>Finally, speaking of the two space agencies together, this announcement marks the intensification of cooperation between the European and Russian space agencies, perhaps positioning themselves jointly as more of a full peer of NASA. As Siberian Light notes, Russian Soyuz rockets are now launching from the European Space Agency's main launch faciility in French Guiana as well as from the spaceports in the former Soviet Union.</li>
All this has to be said with the proviso that this must actually happen first, of course.