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Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 <BR>What are the themes for space science?

Cosmic Vision 2015-2025
What are the themes for space science?

2 April 2004

A call to the European Science Community

Deadline 1 June 2004
Submission Period is Closed


This announcement is to invite the community to participate in a Call for Themes for Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 to assist in developing the future plans of the Cosmic Vision programme of the ESA Directorate of Science. The European Space Agency's Science Programme Committee (SPC), the body that oversees the Agency's mandatory science activities has indicated that it is time to look further into the future. In November 2003, the SPC agreed a plan for space science, Cosmic Vision, for the years 2004-2014. Now the community is asked to help in developing the Cosmic Vision plan for the ESA Science Programme for the decade 2015-2025.

The 1994-1995 Exercise

Two previous long-term planning exercises for space science have taken place. The first long-term review of the ESA Science Programme took place in the period 1984-1985 and led to the original Horizon 2000 plan. That plan consolidated a European-level approach to space science, which firmly established Europe as a player on the world scene. It also led to a steady enhancement of the programme funding. A decade later, a further long-term programme review took place about a decade ago and much of the broad plans laid then is in process of realisation now, whereas some are already implemented. It is useful to review what was laid out then. The major elements of the plan are listed below with notes indicating how the target has been met.


  • A Cornerstone level mission to Mercury, addressing both planetary and magnetospheric aspects.

    Now under development as BepiColombo - to be launched 2012. Smart-1 is also a precursor for the mission (Solar Electric Propulsion).

  • A cornerstone level programme in interferometry (aiming at astrometric observations at 10 microarcsec level; detection of planets around other stars).

    Now implemented as Gaia (no longer based on interferometry) - to be launched no later than 2012. However the description also can be linked to 'Darwin', an idea for an infra-red wavelength interferometer mission that has received a lot of study in the last decade.

  • A cornerstone level programme on the observation of gravitational waves in particular at low frequencies below 1 Hz.

    Now under development as LISA - to be launched 2012, with a technology proving mission Smart-2 / LISA Pathfinder to be launched in 2007.

Other missions

  • Participation at the level of a medium-size mission in opportunities that may arise in the international context of Mars exploration.

    Mars Express was launched in 2003, carrying a lander, Beagle2.

  • Participation in an international solar mission or taking advantage of opportunities provided by the Space Station or the small and medium class missions of Horizon 2000 Plus.

    Now in the plan as Solar Orbiter - to be launched 2014

  • Continued participation in the HST programme and in possible successor programmes. The traditional procedures for medium-size missions might provide an adequate basis for this.

    Now under development as the European contribution to JWST - to be launched 2011.

  • Analysis of a major high-energy astrophysics facility in the context of the space station. Access to small and medium-class missions should be fully exploited.

    Much work has been done on XEUS (a next generation large X-Ray astronomy mission and EUSO, a space station based extremely high energy cosmic ray observatory).

Technological Developments

  • Studies of lightweight, passively cooled, high-optical-quality mirrors for use in the 2-100 micron part of the spectrum; monitoring of the development of infrared detectors.

  • Studies aimed at the development of Cornerstone-level missions in X-ray, gamma-ray and infrared astronomy, soon after the conclusion of Horizon 2000 Plus.

Since 1995, the programme's funding gradually eroded and the most notable change is that in order to match the demands placed by the plan, the engineering approach had to change. The concept of 'cornerstones' has been much eroded to accommodate the erosion of buying power of the programme in the years 1996-2001 (~20%) - the cornerstone missions presently in the programme have budgets (~450 MEuro) much closer to the 'medium' missions of the original plan.

In recent years, common technical approaches linking development of missions in families (Newton-Integral, Herschel-Planck, Rosetta-Mars Express-Venus Express, Smart1-BepiColombo-Solar Orbiter, LISA-LISA-Pathfinder) have increased the overall launch rate (to an average of more than one per year) and reduced the cost of missions. The throughput of science has thus been maintained by using commonalities of engineering approach (families of missions) as much as is possible along with other measures to increase efficiency (e.g. faster mission development procurement processes).

The presently planned programme up to 2015 includes the following missions:

    - Venus Express (launch in 2005)
    - Corot (led by CNES, launch in 2006)
    - LISA Pathfinder (launch in 2007)
    - Microscope (led by CNES, launch in 2007)
    - Herschel (launch in 2007)
    - Planck (launch in 2007)
    - JWST (launch in 2011)
    - Gaia (launch in 2012)
    - LISA (launch in 2012)
    - BepiColombo (launch in 2012)
    - Solar Orbiter (to be confirmed in 2004 for launch in 2014)

What is now needed

The targets of Horizon 2000 plus (which together with the original Horizon 2000 was later called the Horizons 2000 plan) given above are interesting. The annotations show that many of the targets have been hit. However one must also note that many of the items in the plan achieve realisation in forms very different from that envisaged at the time.

    - LISA is now a three spacecraft system; it was six in 1995, although it does shave its own technology precursor mission (LISA Pathfinder: formerly Smart-2).

    - The long-term items of the 1995 plan, Darwin and XEUS have changed dramatically in conception.

    - Mars was a priority in 1995 but the failure of Mars 96 (a cooperation of many ESA Member States led by Russia) that precipitated the particular Mars Express mission was still in the future. The Mars Express Beagle2 lander was certainly not then envisaged as part of Europe's contribution to Mars science. Nor was a follow-on mission like Venus Express foreseen.

    - The nature of the successor to Hubble was not clear in 1995 and the important enhancement to the science capability of JWST that Europe would add with the MIRI (Mid-InfraRed Instrument) was not dreamt of.

    - International cooperation with China has enhanced the Cluster mission with Double Star and with Japan has resulted in contributions to the forthcoming Solar B and Astro F missions, helping prepare for Solar Orbiter and Herschel, respectively.

What have held the plan together are its science targets. They did not substantially change. Here lies a major virtue of a long-term plan; it sets a long-term axis for activities in studies, technology developments and accommodation of technology evolution.

It follows that the challenge for the next long term look at science for the period 2015-2025 is much less to identify particular missions than to fix on the future science targets of our space science community. As the Agency is keen to preserve some of the technical efficiencies of approach achieved in recent years, this process must then be used not only for science planning but also to set the agenda for the key areas of necessary technological development. Furthermore, one also needs to look at the programme level at the potential commonalities of engineering approach between disciplines. Hence, on the time scale chosen, the science targets are probably better described as 'themes' than missions. Hence this call is a Call for Themes for Cosmic Vision 2015-2025.

The way ahead

Evidently, the selection of future targets and the consultation with the community that must precede it has to involve the wide European science community.

The planning process started with a brainstorming activity between the Executive and a broad cross-section of scientists, the cross-disciplinary groups (XPG's), in mid-2003. Two major cross-disciplinary themes were examined (the physical universe and the chemical-biological universe) as well as a profound discussion of the role of space science in European society. A brief report was made to a plenary meeting of the advisory structure (AWG, SSWG, FPAG and SSAC) in September 2003 but the financial vicissitudes of the succeeding months delayed the next planned steps.

The encapsulated vision statements from the XPG exercise can be viewed here.

The Call for Themes for 2015-2025

Herewith the Science Programme of the Agency is opening an electronic "Call for themes for 2015-2025" for the long term programme to fit within the grand themes outlined in the annexe 'Purpose and Conclusions of the Cross-disciplinary Perspective groups (XPG)' .

All members of the European scientific community are invited to respond. Responses may be from individuals or by groups of scientists.

A response to the call should be no more than two pages and encapsulate a particular theme that should be addressed as a priority in the decade after next. There is no need to attempt a specific space mission definition but the reason for using a space-based system must be made clear. The technology evolution required and the basis for expecting that the required advances can be achieved should be outlined.

Proposals should be limited to work with robotic spacecraft and to missions done for scientific ends. However there should be no concern over how the internal directorate structure of the Agency may evolve (use of the ISS or other fixed man-tended facility may be proposed - although conditions for ISS use in the decade in question are not clear at present - or the implementation of science through a technological programme such as Aurora should be assumed).

The response should be submitted by attached file in PDF, plain text or MS word format by electronic mail to

The succeeding steps

The planning exercise should be completed in time for the early spring 2005 SPC meeting (February).

The proposed procedure is as follows:

  1. April 2004: Issuance of "Call for themes for Cosmic Vision 2015-2025" to the scientific community. Responses should be concise (say 1-2 pages). They should identify areas of interest, justify why they should be given high priority and describe the European position in the field.
  2. May 2004: Preliminary discussions in the ESA science advisory bodies (Solar System Working Group, Astronomy Working Group, Fundamental Physics Advisory Group and the Space Science Advisory Committee).
  3. 1 June 2004: Deadline for receipt of electronically submitted themes.
  4. June 2004: Report to SPC of the work in progress leading to a formal proposal in spring 2005.
  5. July 2004: the science advisory bodies of the Agency (Solar System Working Group, Astronomy Working Group, Fundamental Physics Advisory Group and the Space Science Advisory Committee) will be asked to analyse the responses to the call, classify them and eventually assign preliminary priorities. The Advanced Concept and Payload Office will have done a preliminary technical analysis of the ideas and will provide technical support.
  6. September 2004: Open Workshop in Paris. The workshop is to involve the community and the ESA advisory structure to report on the preliminary results of the consultation. The selected themes would be presented, discussed and debated to assess their scientific relevance, the support of the wider community and an early identification of technology challenges. External experts may be invited to the workshop to present reviews on the situation in broad fields.
  7. Autumn 2004: an analysis of the major technologies needed to develop the selected themes should be finalised and Technology Reference Missions should be identified for future studies. Participants from ground-based astronomy (e.g. nominated by ESO) could be invited to explore synergies.
  8. Based on the results of these preparatory activities, in the autumn time frame, at their planned meetings, the working groups and the SSAC will formulate the new long term plan. In formulating this plan, the advisory structure will take account of the National plans as well as those of the other European (ESO) and international partners.
  9. November 2004: There will be a progress report to SPC.
  10. The Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 plan will be presented to the SPC in spring 2005.
  11. Public presentations of the plan will be made to the community through the spring of 2005.

It should be emphasised that the challenge of the present exercise is to foresee the major strands of space science activity in the next-but-one decade in order to plan developments appropriately. There are in parallel shorter term activities under way in the Agency associated with potential new programmes in exploration and the preparation of the next level of resources 2005-2009. In due course this may lead to opportunities for the community to make proposals for activities to enhance the programme in the short term. Accordingly, ideas that require immediate implementation should not be put forward in response to this call.

Last Update: 1 September 2019
16-Jul-2024 03:15 UT

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