Member states commit to participation in the Aurora programme for five-year periods, after which they can change their level of participation or pull out entirely. In the early years the Aurora programme planned for flagship missions and arrow missions for key technology demonstrations, such as Earth re-entry vehicle/capsule and Mars aerocapture demonstrator. Although human spaceflight has remained a long-term goal of the programme, with some basic technology development in this area, the thrust has been on implementation of the ExoMars mission and preparations for an international Mars sample return mission.
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Arrow missions are technology demonstrator missions focused on developing a certain technology needed for the Flagship missions. Approved Arrow missions so far (as of January 30, 2003):
Earth re-entry vehicle/capsule, a step in the preparations for the Mars Sample Return mission.
Mars aerocapture demonstrator, to further develop the technologies for using a planet's atmosphere to brake into orbit. This particular mission seems to have been revised into an expanded mission to demonstrate "aerobraking/aerocapture, solar electric propulsion and soft landing" to be launched in 2018.
2030s – First human mission to Mars, as a split mission. The proposed Ariane M rocket may be used for this landing.
The human part of the programme has been challenged by the main ESA contributors (France, Germany and Italy), making it quite possible that the whole Aurora Programme will be refocused on robotic-only exploration of Mars.