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N° 36–2002: "Cosmic Vision": the new ESA Science Programme

27 May 2002

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:


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)

Fax: +33(0)

For further information:

ESA Media Relations Office
Tel: +33(0)
Fax: +33(0)

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