ESA’s Cosmic Vision: Part 1

We had a talk yesterday from Dr. Fabio Favata titled “Space Astronomy in ESA’s Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 plan”. Cosmic Vision is the European Space Agency’s peculiar name for its plan over the next decade and a bit. The talk was very good, and covered almost the whole breadth of ESA’s big activities that are either currently running or up-and-coming.

So where is ESA right now? Currently ESA is supporting or in some way dealing with about a dozen missions in operation. Between now and 2015, ESA has 8 more spacecraft due to launch. In this post I will briefly overview those upcoming launches. In my next post, I shall discuss the future beyond 2015.


This year will see three payloads put into orbit: Chandryaan, Herschel and Planck. Chandrayaan is an unmanned lunar mission in association with the Indian Space Agency. Herschel and Planck are ESA endeavours and Herschel particularly is seen as a flagship mission. Herschel will be a big step forward technologically and will usher in a lot of Far Infrared data for people like me in the area of star formation, and indeed for anyone else who likes to look at fairly cold, dusty things.

2010 will see something called Microscope go up. This is an experiment to test Einstein’s equivalence principle, which is a key postulate in the characterization of space-time and the theory of gravitation. 2010 also sees the LISA Pathfinder mission launch, which will test the viability of LISA, a much talked about gravity wave experiment which always seems to be 5 years away.

In 2011, GAIA, another flagship mission will be sent up to measure the precise distances and velocities of a billion stars. It will track the motions of stars down to 10-20 microarcseconds and a magnitude down to 15. This mission will revolutionise the way we model our galaxy, as we will begin to see how the stars that make it up are moving about.

In 2013, the James Webb Space Telescope will launch, which is seen by many as the successor to Hubble although it will really be looking at non-visible wavelengths. Also in 2013 is the wonderfully named BepiColombo, a Mercury mission which will also test the theory of relativity.

Finally in 2015, ESA will launch the Solar Orbiter which will produce images of the Sun at an unprecedented resolution and perform closest ever in-situ measurements.

You can find out more about any of these mission at ESA’s website.


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