ESA chooses 3 scientific missions for further study

February 19, 2010, European Space Agency
ESA's Cosmic Vision will continue. Credit: ESA

Dark energy, habitable planets around other stars, and the mysterious nature of our own Sun, have been chosen by ESA as candidates for two medium-class missions to be launched no earlier than 2017.

On Thursday 18 February, ESA's Science Programme Committee (SPC) approved three missions to enter the so-called definition phase. This is the next step required before the final decision is taken as to which missions are implemented. The three proposals chosen to proceed are Euclid, PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (PLATO), and .

Euclid would address key questions relevant to fundamental physics and cosmology, namely the nature of the mysterious and . Astronomers are now convinced that these substances dominate ordinary matter. Euclid would map the distribution of galaxies to reveal the underlying 'dark' architecture of the Universe.

The PLATO mission would address one of the most timely and long-standing questions in science, namely the frequency of planets around other stars. This would include terrestrial planets in a star's , so-called Earth-analogues. In addition, PLATO would probe stellar interiors by detecting the gaseous waves rippling their surfaces.

Solar Orbiter would take the closest look at our Sun yet possible, approaching to just 62 solar radii. It would deliver images and data that include views of the Sun's polar regions and the solar far side when it is not visible from Earth.

These three missions are the finalists from 52 proposals that were either made or carried forward in 2007. They were whittled down to just six mission proposals in 2008 and sent for industrial assessment. Now that the reports from those studies are in, the missions have been pared down again. "It was a very difficult selection process. All the missions contained very strong science cases," says Lennart Nordh, Swedish National Space Board and chair of the SPC.

And the tough decisions are not yet over. Only two missions out of three of them: Euclid, PLATO and Solar Orbiter, can be selected for the M-class launch slots. All three missions present challenges that will have to be resolved at the definition phase. A specific challenge, of which the SPC was conscious, is the ability of these missions to fit within the available budget. The final decision about which missions to implement will be taken after the definition activities are completed, which is foreseen to be in mid-2011.

In addition, the SPC has decided to consider at its next meeting in June, whether to also select a European contribution to the SPICA mission.

SPICA would be an infrared space telescope led by the Japanese Space Agency JAXA. It would provide 'missing-link' infrared coverage in the region of the spectrum between that seen by the ESA-NASA Webb telescope and the ground-based ALMA telescope. SPICA would focus on the conditions for planet formation and distant young galaxies.

"These missions continue the European commitment to world-class space science," says David Southwood, ESA Director of Science and Robotic Exploration, "They demonstrate that ESA's Cosmic Vision programme is still clearly focused on addressing the most important space science."

Explore further: Cosmic Vision 2015-2025: and the candidate missions are...

Related Stories

Cosmic Vision 2015-2025: and the candidate missions are...

October 19, 2007

The first steps of the next great phase of European space science have been taken! At its meeting held on 17-18 October 2007 in Paris, ESA’s Space Science Advisory Committee (SSAC) selected the new candidates for possible ...

Cosmic Vision 2015-2025: ready to launch

February 26, 2007

Within a few weeks, ESA will invite the scientific community to propose the first missions for Cosmic Vision 2015-2025. The first medium-class mission should be launched in the 2016-2017 timeframe at the latest. The first ...

NASA and ESA prioritize outer planet missions

February 18, 2009

At a meeting in Washington last week, NASA and ESA officials decided to first pursue a mission to study Jupiter and its four largest moons, and plan for another mission to visit Saturn's largest moon, Titan, and Enceladus.

NASA starts new science Web site

April 10, 2008

The U.S. space agency announced the start of a new Web site designed to provide information about its scientific endeavors and achievements.

NASA to Investigate Nine New Ideas for Future Missions

August 2, 2004

NASA has selected nine studies, including one from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., to investigate new ideas for future mission concepts within its Astronomical Search for Origins Program.

UK starts planning for Cosmic Vision

May 23, 2005

Whilst many of us find it a challenge to plan a few weeks ahead the space industry works on far longer time scales - planning years ahead. UK space scientists and industrialists met on 19th May to look at technology requirements ...

Recommended for you

How massive can neutron stars be?

January 16, 2018

Astrophysicists at Goethe University Frankfurt set a new limit for the maximum mass of neutron stars: They cannot exceed 2.16 solar masses.

Black hole spin cranks-up radio volume

January 12, 2018

Statistical analysis of supermassive black holes suggests that the spin of the black hole may play a role in the generation of powerful high-speed jets blasting radio waves and other radiation across the universe.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.