Voyage 2050 sets sail: ESA chooses future science mission themes
by Staff Writers
Paris (ESA) Jun 15, 2021
ESA's large-class science missions for the timeframe 2035-2050 will focus on moons of the giant Solar System planets, temperate exoplanets or the galactic ecosystem, and new physical probes of the early Universe.
"The selection of the Voyage 2050 themes is a pivotal moment for ESA's science programme, and for the future generation of space scientists and engineers," says Gunther Hasinger, ESA Director of Science.
"Now that Cosmic Vision has taken shape with a clear plan for our missions until the mid 2030s, we must start planning the science and the technology we'll need for the missions we want to launch decades from now, and that is why we are defining the top-level science themes of the Voyage 2050 plan today."
A call for ideas for Voyage 2050 was issued in March 2019, generating close to 100 diverse and ambitious ideas, which were subsequently distilled into a number of science themes. Topical teams, comprising many early career through early scientists from a broad range of space science expertise areas, carried out an initial assessment of the themes and reported their findings to a senior science committee.
This committee was tasked by the Director to recommend not only science themes for the next three large-class missions following the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, Athena and LISA, but also to identify potential themes for future medium-class missions, and recommend areas for long-term technology development beyond the scope of Voyage 2050. The science themes were selected by ESA's Science Programme Committee at a meeting on 10 June 2021. The specific missions themselves will be selected in due course when ESA issues individual calls for mission proposals.
"The Voyage 2050 plan is the result of a significant effort of the science community, of the topical teams, and of the senior committee who contributed to such a lively and productive debate to arrive at this outstanding proposal," says Fabio Favata, Head of the Strategy, Planning and Coordination Office. "Voyage 2050 is setting sail, and will keep Europe at the forefront of space science for decades to come."
Moons of the giant planets
From temperate exoplanets to the Milky Way
While the exoplanet topic is considered to have a high scientific priority, solidifying Europe's leadership in the field of exoplanets beyond the lifetime of Cheops, Plato and Ariel, an informed choice between a study of the less accessible regions of our Galaxy and the study of temperate exoplanets needs to be made involving the interested scientific community to assess the likelihood of success and feasibility of missions within the large mission boundary conditions.
New physical probes of the early Universe
This theme follows the breakthrough science from Planckand the expected scientific return from LISA, and would leverage advances made in instrumentation to open a huge discovery space. Additional study and interaction with the scientific community will be needed to converge on a mission addressing this theme.
A bright future for medium-class missions
The Voyage 2050 committee identified themes across all domains of space science, from solar system science to astrometry, astronomy, astrophysics and fundamental physics, showing that breakthrough science can continue to be achieved within the medium-class mission cost-cap. Medium missions will continue to be selected through future open 'Calls for missions'.
Medium-class missions also provide a route for Europe's participation in ambitious missions with international partners. This could include contributing to NASA's next-generation astronomy observatories - much like the current James Webb Space Telescope partnership - or to future outer Solar System missions, for example.
Technology development for the next century
This covers topics such as cold atom interferometry for atomic clock development, enabling X-ray interferometry for the future study of compact objects like black holes, and developments for future planetary missions: in particular better power sources to enable the exploration of the outer Solar System, and advances in collecting and storing cryogenic samples of cometary ices for a future sample return mission.
Why plan now?
Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, Athena and LISA are all large-class missions in the Cosmic Vision plan. Large missions in particular require significant technology development, which often takes a number of years. Therefore, it is important to start defining the necessary technology well in advance, to ensure that ESA's Science Programme can secure a world-class, forward-looking series of missions for future generations.
Thus, it is time to look beyond Cosmic Vision, to the period 2035-2050 - and even beyond - with the Voyage 2050 plan.
Experiment and innovate on our spacecraft
Paris (ESA) Jun 11, 2021
We provide the spacecraft, the tools and some funding. Your job? Come up with innovative experiments you want to run on it. The OPS-SAT Space Lab is ESA's only spacecraft 'open to innovation from anyone' and enables new ideas, concepts and software to be tested in space. Now, the Discovery element of ESA's Basic Activities is supporting you to fly your experimental software or test your techniques on an in-space computer more powerful than any ESA has launched before. Submit your ideas via E ... read more
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