ESA's 'Cosmic Vision'
Space science is playing a prominent role in Europe’s space programme. It has been the core of European cooperation and success in space since the early 1960s.
ESA was created in 1975 and has continued a tradition of innovative thinking and long-term perspectives that form the basis for ESA’s scientific programme.
The Horizon 2000 plan, which included the Cassini–Huygens mission, was prepared in 1984. Horizon 2000 Plus was drawn up in 1994–95 and is coming to fruition now with a wealth of scientific satellites and space telescopes in orbit producing great results.
In the first years of the new millennium, ESA began building its future in space science with Cosmic Vision 2015–25. This is a way of looking ahead, building on a solid past and working today to overcome the scientific, intellectual and technological challenges of tomorrow.
More than a philosophy
ESA’s long-term scientific programme is based on a vision, built on strong pragmatism and consolidated ability.
To explore our Universe, its mysteries and laws, and advance our understanding of nature, this vision has to capitalise on:
- the current scientific challenges;
- the prevailing priorities in space research;
- the available know-how, resources and technological investment towards maximum scientific return;
- the maintenance of European industrial and technological competitiveness; and
- the consolidation of ESA’s ability in worldwide space science.
Cosmic Vision in context: today’s achievements
The Sun–Earth connection is being explored by the SOHO mission in combination with the Cluster quartet and Proba-2, while Ulysses, launched in 1991, completed its mission in 2009.
Large astronomical observatories, from the Hubble Space Telescope to XMM-Newton and Integral, are providing breathtaking images and mind-boggling results, confirming Europe’s capability in spectroscopy (the science of ‘finger-printing’ celestial bodies).
Planetary science is also proving to be a big success story for Europe, with SMART-1 completing its mission at the Moon in 2003 and Huygens landing on Saturn’s moon Titan in 2005.
Now Rosetta is on its own way to Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, Venus Express is in orbit around Venus, Mars Express is exploring the Red Planet and BepiColombo, the joint ESA/Japanese project for a mission to Mercury, is due for launch in 2015.
Over the next decade, ESA’s science programme is due to open windows into new realms of astronomy and astrophysics.
Herschel and Planck, launched in 2009, have already been studying the cold Universe and looking for echoes of the Big Bang, respectively.
Gaia, set for launch in 2013, will count and track a billion stars in the Milky Way and beyond. The James Webb Space Telescope, a NASA observatory with major ESA involvement, will explore the very first stars and galaxies.
Solar Orbiter will venture closer to the Sun than any previous spacecraft, and Euclid will explore the nature of the mysterious dark energy thought to be accelerating the expansion of our Universe.
Meanwhile, ESA’s first Large-class mission, Juice, is destined for Jupiter and its ocean-bearing moons Europa, Ganymede and Callisto in 2022.
Last update: 19 October 2012