Friday, February 25, 2011

ESA Medium Class Mission Candidates

ESA announced a list of four missions as candidates for its next medium class mission slot for launch in the early 2020s.  Two missions relevant to planetary selection were included.  Several others, including the Titan Aerial Explorer balloon mission and a Uranus Pathfinder orbiter mission were not selected.

The two planetary-related proposals are:

"MarcoPolo-R is a mission to return a sample of material from a primitive near-Earth asteroid (NEA) for detailed analysis in ground-based laboratories. The scientific data would help to answer key questions about the processes that occurred during planet formation and the evolution of the rocks which were the building blocks of terrestrial planets.  The mission would also reveal whether NEAs contain pre-solar material not yet found in meteorite samples, determine the nature and origin of the organic compounds they contain, and possibly shed light on the origin of molecules necessary for life.

"The Exoplanet Characterisation Observatory (EChO) would be the first dedicated mission to investigate exoplanetary atmospheres, addressing the suitability of those planets for life and placing our Solar System in context.  Orbiting around the L2 Lagrange point, 1.5 million km from Earth in the anti-sunward direction, EChO would provide high resolution, multi-wavelength spectroscopic observations. It would measure the atmospheric composition, temperature and albedo of a representative sample of known exoplanets, constrain models of their internal structure and improve our understanding of how planets form and evolve."

Also on the candidate list are the Large Observatory For X-ray Timing (LOFT) and the  Space-Time Explorer and Quantum Equivalence Principle Space Test (STE-QUEST) proposals.

You can read the complete press release at:

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