Review of Cosmic Vision 2015-2025
Nine major themes were drawn out of an extraordinarily strong response (151 proposals) to a call for ideas for themes issued back in the spring. Using this input, scientists from across Europe put together a series of papers outlining what they thought should be the major issues of space exploration a decade or so from now. The three major discipline groups of the ESA Space Science advisory structure drew up the contents and basic themes for the workshop. These were:
From the Astronomy Working Group:
- Other worlds and life in the universe
The early Universe
The evolving violent universe
From the Fundamental Physics Advisory Group:
- Toward quantum gravity
Beyond the standard model
The gravitational wave universe
From the Solar System Working Group:
- From the Sun to the Earth and beyond
Tracing the origin of the solar system
Life and habitability in the solar system and beyond
In a very busy summer, the working groups did an extraordinary job in distilling down these major themes out of the many ideas received. However their work is far from over. The working groups will next set about refining some of the technology challenges with the help of the ESA Science Directorate Advanced Concepts office (SCI-A) with the aim of next outlining the kinds of missions and mission scenarios that are feasible in the timescale foreseen. Not only do we want to develop an outline implementation plan but also a technology roadmap that will be needed to get ready for missions a decade from now.
The Space Science Advisory Committee (SSAC) under the guidance of chairman Giovanni Bignami will start next month the task of refining the themes down to produce a plan that captures as much as possible of the range of topics targeted. In the discussion at the end, several observers commented that there were clear similarities and parallels in final science goals across all three of the science groups. It will be for the SSAC to bring a harmonisation and a plan for implementation.
The SSAC will make an interim report on progress so far to the representatives of ESA Member States at the ESA Science Programme Committee (SPC) in November. They may want to insert their own 'mid-course' corrections and this will be their opportunity to comment. It is expected that the SSAC and the advisory groups will continue working with the Executive to bring together an overall plan for the 2015-2025 period for final presentation to the February SPC meeting. Following SPC endorsement, it is envisaged to produce a document 'Cosmic Vision 2015-2025' laying out the targets for Europe in space science for the decade.
In order to take the ideas to the community, in the spring a series of town meetings for the science community in each country is expected to be organised for the science community to be able to hear about the plan. Here scientists will again have a chance to question the executive about how they will be able to take their part.
For twenty years European space science has had a long-term plan; this planning process has paid off enormously well. It has consolidated European efforts over years across the (now) 17 Member States and moved Europe unambiguously into being the major world player that it now is.
Europe's funding for space science has always been substantially less than the US but there can be little doubt from the showing in UNESCO Paris in the last two days that Europe can claim intellectual parity and, with the right funding, could push back any frontier.
ESA Director of Science
The presentations and an overview of each session can be accessed by following this link.