Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Europe Bypasses the Solar System for Its Next Large Science Missions

In September I wrote about the European Space Agency’s competition to select its next two large (~€1B) science missions.  While many exciting solar system concepts were included, ESA’s management selected X-ray and gravity observatories as its missions to fly in 2028 and 2034.  Both missions promise to deepen our knowledge of the universe considerably.  (The journal Nature has a good overview of the missions.)

While it’s disappointing the ESA did not select a planetary mission, Europe will make strong contributions to planetary exploration in the next two decades with the Rosetta mission rendezvousing with a comet (2014), a Mars orbiter (2016), a Mars rover (2018), the Bepi-Colombo Mercury orbiter (arrives  2022), and the JUICE Jupiter and Ganymede orbiter (arrives 2030).  This is in addition to the currently operating Venus and Mars Express orbiters.

Europe can still select planetary missions for its Medium-scale program.  The Marco Polo-R asteroid sample return mission is currently in consideration for the next selection.  ESA’s Mars program is also funded separately and is looking at missions for the 2020s.

ESA's Rosetta spacecraft.  Credit: ESA


  1. The Keystone GarterNovember 8, 2013 at 9:08 PM

    I'd prefer a whole bunch of surface imaging missions. For instance, mapping Mars to very fine detail. I guess the highest science payoff might be to pave the way for future gully science. Mapping Mars in minute enough detail to see an ant on Mars, whereever there are gullies and may be future liquid water gullies we can catch in the act. The idea being to stimulate the production of future future-WMD sensors (on Earth).

    I'd guess that means fewer Battleship missions and more smaller subs, for analogy. If EU wants to win this thing...

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