ESA’s Cosmic Vision: Part 2

February 20, 2008 — Leave a comment

In a previous post I gave a quick run down of where ESA currently stands with regard to missions into space. Now for the lowdown on where they intend to be after 2015. Cosmic Vision is ESA’s plan for the decade 2015-2025.

The aims of Cosmic Vision are divided into four sections:

  • What are the conditions for life and for planet formation?
  • How does to Solar System work?
  • What are the fundamental laws of the Universe?
  • How did the Universe originate and what is it made of?

In order to try to answer these questions, ESA takes submissions for proposed missions and then gives these to a series of committees and panels, who then advise and give their thoughts. Space missions are extremely costly and take a very long time to fully execute. Hubble has been running for 17 years now, but was conceived of even before I was born, making it older than me in a strange sort of way.

They began calls for Cosmic Vision in 2004 and received 50 proposals for missions. They have decided that there will be one large and one medium sized mission launched in 2018 and 2017 respectively.

Considerations are now underway as to which of several viable options should been followed through. The medium sized mission has been alloted around €300 million and the large has €650 million (you’ll note later that many proposed missions cost more but collaborations can solve that). Assessment will continue now until 2009, when after a few of the options are discarded, further assessment goes until 2011. Given the time spent assessing these things, you’d think ESA could just save enough money for a whole new mission if they cut out the decision makers!

So on to the good stuff: what missions will they chose? The possibilities are listed below, and there are some really cool options. Though, oddly, I prefer the medium-sized options in general. I have included links where available. If you know where I can find any missing ones, please let me know and I’ll add them in.

Medium-Sized Possible Future Missions:

plato.jpg

Plato – A planetary transits and astroseismology mission. Would produce high-accuracy photometry of a large sample of bright stars. It would be able to determine the ages of planetary systems and create a evolutionary sequence of how planets form. [Link]

spacelogo

SPACE/DUNE – This would be an either/or situation between two missions that would try to find evidence of dark energy. DUNE would use a wide-field infrared camera to detect gravitational lensing of galaxies caused by intervening dark material. Thus it would be able to verify the existence of such material and tell us where it is. SPACE would perform near-infrared spectroscopy of 500 million galaxies to try and measure the baryonic acoustic imprint of dark energy in the universe. (Way over my head). [DUNE PDF Link] [SPACE Link]

Marco Polo – This mission would travel to a near Earth object (NEO) and return a sample of material to the Earth itself. A bit like the recent missions to an asteroid and a comet that have tried to do the same.

Cross-Scale – Magnetoshperic physics mission involving multiple craft to study plasma in the Earth-Sun system. The idea is to launch a feasibility study first to see whether such a program of exploration would be beneficial.

Large-Sized Possible Future Missions:

xeus-spacecraft102.jpg

Xeus – A large-collecting-area x-ray observatory. Not a singular mission, but an observatory in space like Hubble or JWST. This is essentially a follow up to ESA’s very successful XMM-Newton mission. Could probe large-scale structure in the universe and the growth of supermassive black holes and galaxies. (Approximate cost €1.2 billion) [Link]

LaPlace – Missions to the Outer planets. LaPlace would visit the Jupiter system and would consist of more than one orbiting probe. It would investigate the magnetosphere of Jupiter as well as how the system may have formed. In a best-case scenario there would also be a Europa lander to assess the feasibility of life of the moon. (Joint mission with NASA/JAXA)

tandemlogo.jpg

TANDEM – The Titan AND Enceladus Mission would head to Saturn to explore the origins and nature of these two moons. (Joint mission with NASA/JAXA) [Link]

lisa.jpg

LISA – The much hyped gravitational waves mission. always cited as being a few year around the corner, this larg-scale mission didn’t even need to apply with a new proposal. LISA is a giant interferometer in space, composed of three craft, which should hopefully be able to detect the stretching and squeezing of the fabric of spacetime caused by the motions of extremely massive objects. (Approximate cost €1 billion) [Link]

In the final post in this series, I will be talking about ESA’s plans beyond 2025 and the technology they hope to be able to exploit.

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