ESA gets flexible
Mar 10, 2000
Six new projects have joined European participation in NASA’s Next Generation Space Telescope as candidates for two flexi-missions to be launched by the European Space Agency (ESA). 50 ideas for new space projects were submitted to ESA following a call for proposals last October. These have now been narrowed down to three space science missions, two experiments to test fundamental physics in space, and an astronomy mission. Discussions about European participation in the Next Generation Space Telescope (NGST), which will be the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, are already underway. Both flexi-missions would be launched in the second half of this decade.
The three space science missions are: STORMS, a set of three spacecraft that will be used to monitor magnetic storms in space; SOLAR ORBITER, a mission to study the surface and atmosphere of the Sun in detail; and MASTER, a mission that would drop a lander on Mars and then go on to study large asteroids in the so-called Main Belt beyond the Red Planet.
Fundamental physics is a new theme for ESA and it is already considering proposals to test the equivalence principle (the STEP mission) and detect gravitational waves (LISA) in space. The HYPER flexi-mission would test new kinds of gyroscopes and motion sensors based on atom interferometers, while CASIMIR would measure the Casimir force - which is related to the nature of the quantum vacuum - about one million times more accurately than has been done on Earth. EDDINGTON would be a one-metre telescope that could search for extrasolar planets around some 700,000 stars, and also study the surface oscillations of some 50,000 stars.
ESA’s first flexi-mission, the Mars Express, is due for launch in 2003, while the NGST is due to follow in 2008. A decision on whether ESA joins the NGST is expected later this year, and both flexi-missions are due to be selected by September. The missions are budgeted to cost no more than 176 million euros at 1999 prices.