Press Release

“Cosmic Vision”: the new ESA Science Programme

By SpaceRef Editor
May 27, 2002
Filed under ,

Following the outcome of Council of Ministers in Edinburgh in November
2001, the Director of Science undertook a complete reassessment of the ESA
Science Programme. This was done in close collaboration with the science
community, represented by the Space Science Advisory Committee, industry
and Member States delegations. The results of this exercise were presented
as a proposal to the 99th meeting of the Science Programme Committee of
the European Space Agency held in Andenes (Norway) on 22/23 May. Whilst
noting the withdrawal by the Executive, during the meeting itself, of the
Venus Express mission, the Science Programme Committee strongly endorsed
the plan proposed by the Executive and encouraged it to proceed vigorously
with its implementation.

The outcome of the ESA Council at Ministerial level held in Edinburgh in
November 2001 was not as positive as expected for the Agency’s Science
Programme. It appeared that the money made available would not be
sufficient to carry out the Long Term Programme approved by the Science
Programme Committee in October 2000, based on financial assumptions
approved by the same Committee in Bern in May 1999. The resources granted
in Edinburgh taken at their face value meant the cancellation of a mission
(e.g. GAIA).

At the conclusion of the exercise, following extensive consultations with
all its partners, the Executive could propose a revised plan, which not
only maintained the missions approved in October 2000, but added the
Eddington mission in addition. The new plan, strongly endorsed
by the Science Programme Committee on the occasion of its 99th meeting,
contains the following missions, listed by production groups:

Astrophysics

Group 1: XMM-Newton (1999), INTEGRAL (2002). X and Gamma Ray Observatories
(studying the ‘violent’ universe)

Group 2: Herschel, exploring the infrared and microwave universe; Planck,
to study the cosmic microwave background; Eddington, searching for
extra-solar planets and studying the stellar seismology. (The three
missions will be launched in the 2007-2008 timeframe.)

Group 3: GAIA, the ultimate galaxy mapper (to be launched no later than
2012). Missions will follow in the same group after 2012.

Solar System Science:

Group 1:Rosetta, a trip to a comet (2003); Mars Express, a Mars orbiter
carrying the Beagle2 lander (2003); (Venus Express, a Venus orbiter, would
have been in this group.)

Group 2: SMART-1, which will demonstrate solar propulsion technology while
on its way to the Moon (2003); BepiColombo, a mission to Mercury, Solar
Orbiter, a mission to take a closer look at the Sun (missions to be
launched in 2011-2012).

Fundamental Physics missions: (one group only)

STEP (2005) the ‘equivalence principle’ test, SMART2, a technology
demonstration mission (2006) for LISA, a joint mission with NASA,
searching for gravitational waves (2011).

In addition the Agency is committed to cooperation with NASA in NGST (the
Next Generation Space Telescope), the successor of the Hubble Space
telescope, with launch in 2010. STEP (2005), the mission to test of the
nature of mass and the basis of mechanics, relies on a decision by NASA,
the major partner.

The production groups are more than scientific groupings. Missions within
each will be built synergistically using common technologies and
engineering teams where possible.

Such a scenario is going to rely on specific commitment to new ways of
working:

– The implementation of BepiColombo and Solar Orbiter with international
partners. Both missions will be implemented as a single activity, leading
to significant savings.

– The implementation of Herschel/Planck and Eddington in a single project,
re-using the same bus. This implies a launch of Eddington not later than
2008.

– Major technical changes reducing the cost of GAIA with no science loss.
GAIA will be launched no later than 2012, the date agreed in Bern.
– Significant gains through new technology in cost effectiveness of
spacecraft development and procurement.

– The timely availability of payloads, one of the current pressing
problems.

– Acceptance of increased managerial complexity and overall programmatic
risk.

Obviously, the implementation of such an ambitious programme requires full
commitment of all involved parties, namely industry, the Executive, the
national funding agencies and the scientific community from the start.
Initially the Executive had included in its proposal also VENUS EXPRESS,
which would have started immediately. However, the Director of the Science
Programme felt that the precondition had not been met and decided to
withdraw the proposal. The Executive is going to have to keep such an
attitude in the future if it is to implement the programme successfully.

Increased programmatic risk means that the programme will be less
resilient to an event like the Cluster mission loss in 1996 where a
recovery was instituted in 4 years.

The approved scenario, stretching over ten years, naturally includes some
uncertainties. These will be exploited to the best advantage of the
overall programme in a flexible way:

Within each combined set of missions (Herschel/ Planck/ Eddington;
BepiColombo/ Solar Orbiter) the launch sequence can be optimised. Work
will start immediately on GAIA to ensure earlier launch dates remain a
possibility. Launch dates of some major collaborative elements of the
programme (e.g. STEP, NGST, LISA) are outside the control of ESA.
Parallel (ESA controlled) activities need to be carried out in a flexible
way to adjust to the workload.

Further international collaboration on missions and payloads can be
beneficial. Specifically a significant contribution from NASA on Solar
Orbiter as part of the International Living with a Star (ILWS) programme
may be linked to European participation in other elements of the American
LWS/STP programme.

Speaking of his feelings about the new plan, the Director of Science,
David Southwood said ‘Apparent miracles or no, one should realise that
much of this is simply our building on the legacy of my predecessor, Roger
Bonnet. Of course, we are pushing further. However, his culture of
welcoming change and demanding commitment to science from everyone
involved lie at the base of what we are doing.’

Whilst the new name ‘Cosmic Vision’ refers to the universe, the programme
is also providing vision in technological and managerial innovation down
here on Earth. The overall funding assumption underlying the new plan is
that the buying power will be preserved in the years following 2005. Is
this unduly pessimistic? The Executive feels that no more proofs are
needed that the science programme is an extremely good investment. More
resources can only improve the leverage. Should they become available,
literally the heavens would be the limit.

For further information, please contact :

ESA Media Relations Office

Tel: +33(0)1.53.69.7155

Fax: +33(0)1.53.69.7690

SpaceRef staff editor.