Press Release

The Future of UK Planetary Science: RAS Statement on Aurora

By SpaceRef Editor
July 30, 2004
Filed under , , ,
The Future of UK Planetary Science: RAS Statement on Aurora

Should the UK participate in the European Space Agency’s future
Exploration Programme [Aurora]?

This is one of the key questions currently being debated by the
scientific community, the UK research councils, parliamentarians
and industry.

Over the past few months, Dr. Sarah Dunkin, Vice President of the
Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), has been leading a working party
to discuss the future of planetary science in the UK.

Following the deliberations of this working party, and in view of the
impressive scientific case for a leading British involvement in the
programme, the RAS Council expressed its firm support for the Aurora
programme during its July meeting.

The RAS believes it is essential that the UK pledges “significant”
(GBP 25-35 million p.a.) support at the ESA ministerial meeting next
year – not only for the scientific and technological impact that such
a programme would have, but also for its inspirational impact on
current and future generations of scientists.

This is the full text of the statement issued by the RAS Council:

“The Society strongly supports UK participation in Aurora. The
scientific case that has been drawn up for PPARC science and the
growing support within the NERC, BBSRC and MRC communities
provides compelling evidence for a strong and leading involvement
in Aurora science by UK researchers. The data to be obtained by
the missions currently in the Aurora roadmap will undoubtedly
provide science of the highest impact and importance, and it is
recognised that the Aurora science themes coincide with many of
the UK’s strongest areas of expertise.

“The Society believes that the UK should take a leading role in the
scientific and technological development of the programme; in order
to do this the UK must sign up to Aurora at a significant level.

“Upon entering the programme, the Aurora funding agency in the UK
must ensure that adequate resources are available to fund the
operations and support aspects of UK involvement, and to ensure we
are able to maximise the scientific exploitation of the results to come
from the missions. It is recognised that significant participation in
Aurora will dramatically increase funding in planetary science in the
UK and it is important to ensure that there are enough qualified and
trained staff to maximise our role.

“The Society believes that Aurora, as one of the programmes
proposed for funding by the research councils, is of the highest
possible priority, but it is a large scale programme and cannot be
funded properly simply by altering priorities within existing science
themes. Much of the funding for Aurora must come from new
funding sources.

“The Society recognises that the UK has a tremendous hardware
contribution to make to the programme and it would be difficult to
take the UK role in Aurora seriously if we did not capitalise on the
technological knowledge gained from the Beagle 2 experience. In
order to compete with other agencies, we must be in a position to
take the technological, as well as scientific, lead on major aspects
of the programme. Given the historic record of the Mars landers, the
Aurora programme must include technology demonstration missions
to prove its concept of descent and landing technology.

“The Society applauds the significant attempts made by PPARC to
disseminate information through a UK Aurora web site and through
support of, and attendance at, community meetings. The Society
encourages further work to provide the general scientific community
with coordinated information on the Aurora programme and its
current rapid evolution. The scientific community would benefit from
more rapid dissemination of information via the PPARC-funded web
site, including information for/from other research council remits.
This will help the community to make informed decisions and
provide accurate and considered advice to their respective research
councils when requested to do so. A dedicated staff member of one
of the research councils should be identified as having scientific
responsibility for Aurora and liaison with the wider cross-disciplinary

“It is recognised that Aurora provides an unprecedented opportunity
to engage the public and younger generation in science. This
opportunity should not be underestimated, and the Society believes
that the UK should make the most of this exciting programme to
inspire current and future generations of scientists and engineers”


Dr. Sarah Dunkin, Vice President of the RAS, was among those to
present the case supporting UK investment in Aurora to a
distinguished audience of government officials, including
representatives of the Parliamentary Space Committee, at this
year’s Farnborough International Air show.

In 2001, 10 countries, including the UK, signed up to preliminary
investment in Aurora. This enabled ESA to conduct a ‘Phase A’
study programme, to which the UK contributed through the Particle
Physics and Astronomy Research Council [PPARC]. This Phase A
programme was intended to identify the early missions and likely
technology requirements of Aurora.

ESA is now requesting additional funding of 39 million Euro
(GBP 26 million) from member states to sustain the programme over
the next 18 months and a decision on this interim investment is
required by 30 September 2004.

Before the next ESA Ministerial meeting, planned for June 2005,
member states, including the UK, will have to decide whether to
participate in the full Aurora programme.


Dr. Sarah Dunkin

RAS vice-president

Tel: +44 (0)1235-446861

Mobile: +44 (0)7879-412951



The UK scientific case for Aurora:

ESA Aurora / PESEP Web site:

President’s Commission on Moon, Mars and Beyond:

NASA’s Vision for Space Exploration:

SpaceRef staff editor.