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.