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Cosmic Vision

Call for proposals; missions selected

Cosmic Vision 2015–2025 is the current cycle of ESA's long-term plan for space science missions. The programme includes CHEOPS (CHaracterizing ExOPlanet Satellite), a small (S-class) mission that will be ready for launch by the end of 2018, SMILE, a collaborative mission between ESA and China scheduled for launch in 2021; Solar Orbiter, Euclid, and PLATO, three medium (M-class) missions with launch slots in the later part of this decade and early and mid part of the next decade; and JUICE (Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer), Athena (Advanced Telescope for High-ENergy Astrophysics), and LISA (Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, three large (L-class) missions for launch in the 2020s and 2030s.

Building the programme

The first call for Cosmic Vision missions was issued in March 2007, targeting two missions: one medium (M-class) and one large (L-class), for launch in 2017 and 2018. From the 50 proposals received, four M-class candidates (Euclid, PLATO, Marco Polo, and Cross Scale), a mission of opportunity (SPICA, led by JAXA) and three L-class candidates (IXO, Laplace and TandEM) were selected for assessment. The LISA mission, carried over from the Horizon 2000 Plus programme, was included as an L-class candidate.

Early in 2009, the Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 plan was updated to reflect the science programme funding availability, the technical progress of the studies, the mission technology readiness and the availability of international partners. The revised plan included the following changes:

  • The two launch slots in 2017 and 2018 were confirmed, but now targeted ESA-led M1 and M2 missions.
  • Solar Orbiter was reclassified as the sixth M-class mission candidate for M1/M2.
  • The Laplace mission to the Jupiter system was selected as the outer planet candidate L-class mission within the Cosmic Vision programme.
  • IXO, Laplace and LISA were maintained in the plan as candidates for the L1 launch opportunity, with a large involvement of international partners (NASA and JAXA), and targeting a launch year in 2020, subject to partnership consolidation.

The second call for Cosmic Vision missions was released in July 2010 with the goal of selecting a third M-class mission (M3) with a targeted launch date of 2024. From the 47 proposals submitted, 4 were recommended by the ESA Advisory Structure and selected for assessment. These candidate missions (EChO, LOFT, MarcoPolo-R, and STE-QUEST) were joined by PLATO as candidates for the M3 launch opportunity. In February 2014, PLATO was selected by ESA's Science Programme Committee for implementation as ESA's third medium-class mission.

A call for a small (S-class) missions in the Science Programme was issued in March 2012, advertising a single launch opportunity in 2017. The CHEOPS mission was selected for implementation from a total of 26 proposals received in response to the call.

In March 2013, a Call for White Papers was issued asking the science community to propose science themes and associated questions that could be addressed by the next two large (L-class) missions, L2 and L3, which are currently planned for launch 2028 and 2034. Subsequently, a Call for mission concepts to address the theme of 'The Hot and Energetic Universe' for the L2 opportunity was issued, with Athena selected in June 2014. In October 2016, ESA issued another Call for mission concepts, this time to address the scientific theme 'The Gravitational Universe'. LISA was selected as the L3 mission in June 2017.

A Call for concepts for candidates for the M4 mission opportunity was issued in August 2014. Three mission proposals were selected out of 27 submissions: ARIEL (the Atmospheric Remote-Sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey), THOR (the Turbulence Heating ObserveR), and XIPE (the X-ray Imaging Polarimetry Explorer). The successful candidate to fill the M4 opportunity will be announced before the end of 2017.

In April 2016, ESA issued another call for medium-sized missions (M5) open to all areas of space science. Shortlisted candidates are expected to be announced before the end of 2017.

In April 2017, ESA selected new science ideas for future space missions, following a call for proposals to the scientific community in February 2016. Three key themes were identified: quantum physics, planetary science, and high-accuracy astrometry.

 

M1 and M2 missions

Solar Orbiter (2018) and Euclid (2020) have been chosen as the two M-class missions, following the selection process described here.

In October 2011, the Science Programme Committee (SPC) selected Solar Orbiter and Euclid as the Cosmic Vision M1 and M2 missions. During the selection process that led up to this decision (October 2007 to October 2011) the following missions were studied:

Cross-Scale (Cosmic Vision theme 2 - How does the Solar System work?) – to revolutionise our understanding of three fundamental physical processes: shock waves, magnetic reconnection and turbulence, which are associated with some of the most energetic phenomena in the Universe, from radio galaxy jets, supernovae remnants and cosmic rays to solar flares and magnetic storms.

In February 2010, Cross-Scale was not selected to continue into the definition phase.

Euclid (Cosmic Vision theme 4 -- How did the Universe originate and what is it made of?) – to map the geometry of the dark Universe, measuring the distance-redshift relation and the growth of structure by using two complementary dark energy probing methods, baryon acoustic oscillations and weak gravitational lensing.

In October 2011, Euclid was selected by the SPC for implementation, with a targeted launch date of 2019. In June 2012, the mission was formally adopted for implementation by the SPC.

Marco Polo (Cosmic Vision theme 2 - How does the Solar System work?) – to return to Earth an unaltered sample from a near-Earth asteroid, facilitating the characterisation of a primitive Solar System body.

In February 2010, Marco Polo was not selected by the SPC to continue into the definition phase.

PLATO (PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars; Cosmic Vision theme 1 - What are the conditions for planet formation and the emergence of life?) – to open a new way in exoplanetary science, by providing a full statistical analysis of exoplanetary systems around stars that are bright and nearby enough to allow for simultaneous and/or later detailed studies of their host stars.

In October 2011, PLATO was not selected by the SPC for implementation; pending the completion of an assessment of the revised structure of the PLATO consortium, the mission would be considered among the candidates for the M3 launch opportunity - see section on 'Candidates for the M3 mission' below.

Solar Orbiter (Cosmic Vision theme 2 - How does the Solar System work?), a mission intended to produce images of the Sun at an unprecedented resolution and perform the closest-ever measurements of local, near-Sun phenomena. Solar Orbiter was carried over from Horizon 2000 Plus.

In October 2011, Solar Orbiter was adopted by the SPC for implementation, with a targeted launch date of 2017.

SPICA (SPace Infrared telescope for Cosmology and Astrophysics; JAXA-led mission, Cosmic Vision theme 4 - How did the Universe originate and what is it made of?) – a next-generation infrared space observatory to probe galaxy, star and planetary system formation, as well as the evolution of dust and gas in the interstellar medium of our own and distant galaxies by performing imaging and spectroscopic observations in the 5–210 micron waveband with a major enhancement of detection sensitivity.

European participation in SPICA was proposed in 2007 in response to a call for missions. A number of studies have been carried out between 2007 and 2013. Discussion between ISAS/JAXA and ESA in 2013 concluded that the scheme for SPICA was not compatible with a timely and robust implementation of the mission. It was therefore decided to stop all support activities on SPICA at ESA in early Autumn 2013.


M3 mission

In February 2014, the Science Programme Committee (SPC) selected PLATO as the Cosmic Vision M3 mission. During the selection process that led up to this decision the following missions were studied:

EChO (Exoplanet Characterisation Observatory; Cosmic Vision theme 1 - What are the conditions for planet formation and the emergence of life?) - a mission to investigate exoplanetary atmospheres, addressing the suitability of those planets for life and placing our Solar System in context.

LOFT (Large Observatory For X-ray Timing; Cosmic Vision theme 4 - How did the Universe originate and what is it made of?) - a mission to address fundamental questions about the motion of matter orbiting close to the event horizon of black holes and the state of matter in neutron stars, by detecting their very rapid changes in X-ray flux and spectral variability.

MarcoPolo-R (Cosmic Vision theme 2 - How does the Solar System work?) -  a mission to return a sample of material from a primitive near-Earth asteroid 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 that were the building blocks of terrestrial planets.

PLATO (PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars; Cosmic Vision theme 1 - What are the conditions for planet formation and the emergence of life?) – to open a new way in exoplanetary science, by providing a full statistical analysis of exoplanetary systems around stars that are bright and nearby enough to allow for simultaneous and/or later detailed studies of their host stars.

In June 2012 a proposal for a revised PLATO consortium was submitted. The structure of the revised consortium has been reviewed to ensure the same level of programmatic maturity as for the M3 candidates selected in response to the 2010 Call for Missions. Following this review, the PLATO mission is now one of the five candidates for the M3 launch opportunity.

STE-QUEST (Space-Time Explorer and Quantum Equivalence Principle Space Test; Cosmic Vision theme 3 - What are the fundamental physical laws of the Universe?) - a mission to precisely measure the effects of gravity on time and matter. Its main objective would be to test the Principle of Equivalence, a fundamental assumption of Einstein's Theory of General Relativity.


M4 mission

In June 2015, three candidates were selected for study for the fourth medium-class mission (M4).

ARIEL (Atmospheric Remote-Sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey) - a mission to analyse the atmospheres of around 500 planets orbiting close to nearby stars, to determine their chemical composition and physical conditions.

THOR (Turbulence Heating ObserveR) - a mission to perform an accurate study of plasma heating and particle energization through the energy dissipation of turbulence at the kinetic plasma scale.

XIPE (X-ray Imaging Polarimetry Explorer) -  to study X-ray emission, the amount and position anagle of polarisation, from high-energy sources such as supernovas, galaxy jets, black holes and neutron stars, to discover more about the behaviour of matter under extreme conditions.

 
L1 mission

The original L-class candidate missions were subject to a reformulation exercise to consider if any of the original mission concepts could be implemented as European-led missions.

JUICE (Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer) has been selected as the L1 mission from the candidates described here.

JUICE (Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer; Cosmic Vision theme 2 – How does the Solar System work?) – a mission to study the giant gaseous planet Jupiter and its moons Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto in unprecedented detail.

JUICE was the result of the reformulation of the EJSM-Laplace mission.

In May 2012, JUICE was selected by the SPC as the L1 mission, with a targeted launch date of 2022.

ATHENA (Advanced Telescope for High Energy Astrophysics; Cosmic Vision themes 3 and 4 – What are the fundamental physical laws of the Universe? / How did the Universe originate and what is it made of?) – a next-generation facility designed to address some of the most fundamental questions in contemporary astrophysics and cosmology by investigating black holes and matter under extreme conditions, the formation and evolution of galaxies, clusters and the large scale structure, and the lifecycles of matter and energy.

ATHENA was the result of the reformulation of the IXO mission.

In May 2012, ATHENA was not selected by the SPC to continue into the definition phase.

TandEM/TSSM (Titan and Enceladus Mission; Cosmic Vision theme 2 – How does the Solar System work?) – a mission to carry out an in-depth investigation of Titan, an Earth-like organic-rich world and the Saturn System, with special emphasis on Enceladus.

In February 2009, TandEM/TSSM exited the Cosmic Vision programme when ESA and NASA chose EJSM-Laplace as the L-class outer Solar System mission candidate.

The three selected missions were joined by LISA (Laser Interferometer Space Antenna), a mission intended to detect and observe gravitational waves from astronomical sources such as massive black holes and galactic binaries in a frequency range from 10-5 to 1 Hz. LISA was carried over from Horizon 2000 Plus.

In the context of the reformulation exercise LISA became the New Gravitational wave Observatory (NGO).

In May 2012, NGO was not selected by the SPC to continue into the definition phase.


L2 mission

In January 2014, ESA issued a Call for mission concepts for the L2 mission opportunity, which addresses the Cosmic Vision theme of 'The Hot and Energetic Universe'. Athena (Advanced Telescope for High Energy Astrophysics) was selected as the L2 mission in June 2014.

L3 mission

In October 2016, ESA issued a Call for L3 mission concepts to address the theme 'The Gravitational Universe'. LISA (Laser Interferometer Space Antenna) was selected as the L3 mission in June 2017.

S1 mission

CHEOPS (CHaracterizing ExOPlanet Satellite) has been selected as the S1 mission.

CHEOPS (CHaracterizing ExOPlanet Satellite; Cosmic Vision theme 1 - What are the conditions for planet formation and the emergence of life?) – a mission to characterize transiting exoplanets on known bright and nearby host stars.

In October 2012, CHEOPS was selected by the SPC as the S1 mission.

 Collaborative mission with China

A joint mission between ESA and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, SMILE (The Solar wind Magnetosphere Ionosphere Link Explorer) was selected as the S2 mission following a joint call for proposals in January 2015.

SMILE (The Solar wind Magnetosphere Ionosphere Link Explorer) will investigate the interaction between the Earth's magnetosphere and the solar wind to further our understanding of the Sun-Earth connection.

In June 2015, SMILE was selected by the SPC as the S2 mission.


Last Update: 15 November 2017

For further information please contact: SciTech.editorial@esa.int

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