SPICA - a space infrared telescope for cosmology and astrophysics
European participation in SPICA – a SPace Infrared telescope for Cosmology and Astrophysics – was first proposed in response to a call in 2007 for missions for the ESA Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 programme. SPICA was selected for study as a candidate M-class mission, with the character of "Mission of Opportunity". The assessment phase ran from November 2007 to August 2009. This phase included an internal ESA study of the mission concept, as well as 1-year industrial studies of the SPICA cryogenic telescope assembly running in parallel at Thales Alenia Space (France) and at Astrium (France), and a study of similar duration of a concept for a far-infrared imaging spectrometer, SAFARI, by a European consortium.
An updated proposal for European participation in SPICA, based on the outcome of the ESA assessment study, was put forward in late 2009/early 2010 for consideration by the ESA advisory structure by whom it was well-received. The proposal called on ESA to assume a partner agency role in SPICA by making the following contributions: (1) provision of the SPICA cryogenic telescope assembly, (2) use of a European ground station, (3) collaboration on science operations and (4) management of interfaces between JAXA and the European instrument, SAFARI. The SAFARI instrument itself would be procured by ESA from the European Consortium. SPICA entered an extended study phase in early 2010, with the decision on whether to move to implementation phase to be taken on a timescale compatible with the decision by JAXA to take SPICA from the pre-project to project phase.
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. Both JAXA and ESA believe that a more balanced sharing of responsibilities, with an enhanced ESA participation to the mission, would lead to a lower risk and to a more robust mission implementation. Any significant extension of the ESA-contributed elements would bring the mission into the medium mission range, however, with the implication that the mission would need to be proposed by the interested scientific community to an ESA call for missions where it would be peer-reviewed together with other proposals submitted to the same opportunity. It was therefore decided to stop all support activities on SPICA at ESA in early Autumn 2013.
In 2016, a new proposal for SPICA as an ESA-led mission was re-submitted to ESA, and in 2018 it was selected as one of three candidates for the M5 launch opportunity in ESA's Cosmic Vision science programme. In October 2020, ESA and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS/JAXA) announced their decision to no longer consider SPICA as a candidate for the M5 mission.