My two previous posts have covered what ESA is currently working on and and what ESA may be doing in the decade 2015-2025. So what happens next? Well it may seem crazy to speculate on what we will be sending into space almost twenty years from now, but these things taken some planning. It’s also fun.
ESA currently defines its goals beyond 2025 in four general areas:
Firstly they would like to build a far-infrared interferometer. This is something that they cannot currently do technologically and so are hoping that advances in the next deacde or so may allow them to do it beyond then. This will enable them to study both the distant universe and nearby star-forming regions in amazing detail.
The second point of future study is the B-mode polarization of the CMB. This is a big question, but again ESA are hoping that technology will catch up with their blue skies (or is it black skies?) thinking
Ultra-high energy cosmic rays are the third target. Knowing where the most energetic particles in the universe originate and how they interact with the rest of the universe is vital to fully understanding many of the most fascinating areas of astronomy.
Finally, and most excitingly, ESA wants to build Darwin, the terrestrial planet finder. Darwin has been speculated about for some time. Darwin will use three space telescopes, each at least 3 metres in diameter, and a fourth to serve as a communications hub. The telescopes will operate together to scan the nearby Universe, looking for signs of life on Earth-like planets.
If it works, ESA plan to take spectra which will identify the composition of the atmosphere of exoplanets. They also think they will be able to determine if a planet has oceans and continents from the data that Darwin will produce.
The best-case scenario is that technology will have advanced enough for Darwin to actually make images of the surfaces of other Earth-like planets in the galaxy. Many people now see this, as the goal of space exploration over the next century.