MOSCOW, December 26 (RIA Novosti) – The Russian Federal Space Agency Roscosmos and the European Space Agency (ESA) could sign a long-anticipated agreement on Russia’s participation in a Mars research project in the first quarter of 2013, Roscosmos chief Vladimir Popovkin said.
“The agreement will be signed. We are starting financing this project,” Popovkin said in an interview with the Izvestia newspaper published on Wednesday.
Popovkin discussed Russia’s readiness to join the project in a phone conversation with ESA head, Jean-Jacques Dorden, on December 21, and “the sides agreed to sign the agreement in the first quarter of next year.”
According to Popovkin, the signing of the document was expected in November but it has been delayed due to “the complexity of official procedures adopted by ESA.”
“The text of the document will be agreed ‘up to a single comma’ by January 20,” Popovkin stressed.
The ExoMars program to send an orbiter to Mars in 2016 and a robot rover two years later was originally run jointly by NASA and ESA. NASA later said it would cut its participation in the project and will not provide its Atlas carrier for the launch.
Russia has repeatedly expressed its desire to join the project, offering to provide Proton carrier rockets for the launches and scientific equipment in exchange for full membership.
Roscosmos earlier said Russia’s financing of ExoMars could be partially covered by insurance payments of 1.2 billion rubles (about $40.7 million) for the lost Phobos-Grunt sample probe to Martian moon Phobos.
Russia’s participation in the project has been approved by the space council of the Russian Academy of Sciences.