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Science & Exploration

European vision of exploration

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ESA / Science & Exploration / Human and Robotic Exploration / Exploration

ESA’s future for human spaceflight and robotic exploration is a sustainable and international endeavour to visit new places and discover new things. Exploring space is about travelling farther and coming back with new experiences and knowledge to help us on Earth.

Our strategy includes three destinations where humans will work with robots to gather new knowledge: low-Earth orbit on the International Space Station, the Moon and Mars. The three destinations share a common horizon goal, namely human presence on Mars.

In the medium term, the exploration programme includes Europe’s service module for NASA’s Orion spacecraft, a landing on the Moon with Roscomos’ Luna and drilling into Mars with ESA’s ExoMars rover.

A Gateway farther afield than the International Space Station will be a springboard for a sustainable lunar surface exploration and preparing for the next big leap to Mars.

Space Station over Earth
Space Station over Earth

Robots will work hand in hand with astronauts and ground control to scout ahead, prepare landing sites and go to places too dangerous or impractical for humans.

Everything ESA does and has achieved is preparation for exploring farther and better. From tests on Earth to training astronauts and designing the technology of tomorrow, the agency is working closely with international partners and commercial companies to ensure exploration of our Solar System is purposeful, multilateral, sustainable and peaceful. 

Historically, government-backed agencies have opened up new paths for companies to step in and expand access to the far reaches of our planet and beyond. The time has arrived for ESA to join forces with combined missions, offering space for commercial endeavours in addition to pure exploration and scientific research.

Timeline

Earth and its orbit:

  • Sounding rockets, parabolic flights, analogues on space — yearly
  • International Space Station and astronaut training — ongoing, with ESA astronauts visiting every year

Moon:

  • Orion with European Service Module — 2021 
  • Orion landing on the Moon — by 2024 
  • Gateway first European experiment — 2022 with first module 
  • Gateway first ESA astronaut — mid 2020s
  • Luna — mid-2020s
  • European Large Logistics lander — by 2028
  • First three European astronauts on the Gateway — second half of 2020s
  • First European astronaut on the Moon — before 2030

Mars:

  • ExoMars trace gas orbiter — now
  • ExoMars rover and drill — launching 2022, landing 2023
  • Mars Sample Return: 
    • First element, NASA Perserverance, rover — currently en route to Mars
    • ESA’s Earth Return Orbiter, Sample Fetch Rover and Transfer Arm — by 2026
    • Landing of first martian samples on Earth — 2031
Human and Robotic Exploration destinations
Human and Robotic Exploration destinations

The ESA council, at ministerial level, agreed on an exploration strategy of four goals:

  • Science:
    strengthening European excellence in scientific research through opportunities for in-situ investigations, and the development of relevant instrumentation and enabling technologies;
  • Economics (knowledge and technology):
    contributing to the competitiveness and growth of European industry by pushing the frontiers of knowledge and developing new technologies ready to be applied in other fields of economic value;
  • Global cooperation:
    establishing a worldwide cooperative framework to carry out several specific space exploration projects, involving interested partners in each case;
  • An inspirational dimension:
    attracting society and in particular young generations to expand the limits of our knowledge, to study natural sciences and engineering, to share the values of global cooperation in space and to prepare a sustainable human presence in the Solar System beyond Earth.

Use the links below to learn more about our destinations, how we are going to get there and what science we will do to bring discoveries and knowledge back to Earth.

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