Posted by John McHaleCANNES, France, 14 Aug. 2010. The European Space Agency (ESA) awarded a contract extension to Thales Alenia Space for the ExoMars mission to Mars -- covering the mission's Phase B2 (B2X2) and the second major segment of the program's development to prepare the production phase (advanced C/D).Carried out jointly with NASA, ExoMars is the first mission in ESA's Aurora exploration program and actually involves two different missions. The first, scheduled for 2016, will study the Martian atmosphere and demonstrate the feasibility of several key technologies for the entry, descent, and landing phases, necessary for the future human exploration of Mars. It will also provide data relay for communications between Earth and the Martian rovers in subsequent missions. The second mission, in 2018, includes a European rover capable of moving autonomously, taking samples of the soil down to a depth of two meters and analyzing its chemical, physical, and biological properties. Thales Alenia Space Italia is the industrial prime contractor for the ExoMars program, as well as being in charge of the design of the Entry Descent Demonstrator Module (EDM), the development of the Analytical Laboratory Drawer (ALD), which includes the Pasteur Payload instruments, its integration on the Rover, the onboard computer and the EDM's radar altimeter. Thales Alenia Space France is responsible for the design and integration of the Orbiter module. The contract extension will cover all program activities through March 2011, allowing the ExoMars industrial team to carry out the System PDR (Preliminary Design Review) in autumn 2010. It will also enable finalizing the preliminary design of the two missions, planned for 2016 and 2018, and the spacecraft modules for the next development and production phase. In addition, detailed design, procurement, and testing can start for critical units."In addition to ensuring program continuity and making sure we stay on schedule, this contract extension will support continued work by the program's subcontractors and help us minimize the development risks of such a new and complex mission," said Vincenzo Giorgio, director of science programs at Thales Alenia Space.