UK backs Aurora Euro space programme

I'd like a return ticket to Mars, please


The UK will support the European Space Agency's Aurora programme. At a press conference in London this morning, Lord Sainsbury, science minister, announced that PPARC, the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, would commit £5m to Aurora's next phase.

Aurora is a pan European bid to explore the solar system, bring back rock samples from Mars, and possibly even send a manned mission to the Red planet by 2033.

"The British have always been explorers," Lord Sainsbury said. "This is an opportunity to rekindle that spirit. This programme will stretch the imagination of the whole country, and inspire a generation of scientists."

It was by no means a foregone conclusion that the UK would get involved. Professor Ian Halliday, PPARC's chief executive, said that the decision to focus on robotic exploration was key to the UK's involvement. He believes that there is no scientific benefit, at this stage in the project, in human space exploration. "The cost is just too high for the scientific return," he said. Fortunately, the latest versions of the Aurora programme are more robot friendly, at least in the near future.

Despite its reservations and preference for robots, PPARC began a consultation earlier this year to look at the potential scientific benefits of the programme. It wanted to make sure that the science was important, timely and exciting, and that it would be science that the UK could take the lead in.

Dr. Sarah Dunkin, vice president of the Royal Astronomical Society, said that the answer to all those questions was an emphatic "yes".

Having decided that this is the case, Professor Halliday said it is vital that the UK is involved from the very earliest stages. This phase of the programme was about designing the first missions, of which there will be three.

First, a lander demonstrator, to prove that the ESA can land a craft on Mars. Second, a rover mission, to do science on the surface of the planet. Finally, there will be a sample return mission.

"This is where we put a rocket on Mars, dig up a bit of Mars and bring it back to Earth. Clearly, this is a non-trivial exercise," Halliday said.

The next stage will be deciding whether to go ahead with the investment. This would mean a commitment of between £10m and £25m per year for ten years, Halliday said. This would be in addition to the £40m annual ESA subscription the UK pays to support basic scientific research.

Dr. Dunkin remarked that if it is to make this commitment, "PPARC will need the support of the scientific community, which I believe it already has, and the backing of the government".

Lord Sainsbury hinted that there might be more cash available in the future, pointing out that the period covered by the programme would extend beyond the next spending review. He said that the Mars Express mission had shown the value of investing in space science. ®

Related stories

Six more months for Mars rovers
Beagle 2 team none the wiser on failure
Aurora rattles tin for space exploration


Other stories you might like

  • Robotics and 5G to spur growth of SoC industry – report
    Big OEMs hogging production and COVID causing supply issues

    The system-on-chip (SoC) side of the semiconductor industry is poised for growth between now and 2026, when it's predicted to be worth $6.85 billion, according to an analyst's report. 

    Chances are good that there's an SoC-powered device within arm's reach of you: the tiny integrated circuits contain everything needed for a basic computer, leading to their proliferation in mobile, IoT and smart devices. 

    The report predicting the growth comes from advisory biz Technavio, which looked at a long list of companies in the SoC market. Vendors it analyzed include Apple, Broadcom, Intel, Nvidia, TSMC, Toshiba, and more. The company predicts that much of the growth between now and 2026 will stem primarily from robotics and 5G. 

    Continue reading
  • Deepfake attacks can easily trick live facial recognition systems online
    Plus: Next PyTorch release will support Apple GPUs so devs can train neural networks on their own laptops

    In brief Miscreants can easily steal someone else's identity by tricking live facial recognition software using deepfakes, according to a new report.

    Sensity AI, a startup focused on tackling identity fraud, carried out a series of pretend attacks. Engineers scanned the image of someone from an ID card, and mapped their likeness onto another person's face. Sensity then tested whether they could breach live facial recognition systems by tricking them into believing the pretend attacker is a real user.

    So-called "liveness tests" try to authenticate identities in real-time, relying on images or video streams from cameras like face recognition used to unlock mobile phones, for example. Nine out of ten vendors failed Sensity's live deepfake attacks.

    Continue reading
  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022