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Extended life for ESA's science missions

Extended life for ESA's science missions

7 March 2023


ESA's Science Programme Committee (SPC) has confirmed the continued operations of ten scientific missions in the Agency's fleet.

After a comprehensive review of their scientific merits and technical status, the SPC has confirmed the continued operations of the missions led by ESA's Science Programme: Cluster, Gaia, INTEGRAL, Mars Express and XMM-Newton. The SPC also confirmed the Agency's contributions to the extended operations of CHEOPS, Hinode, Hubble, IRIS, and SOHO.

The decision was taken during the SPC meeting in Antwerp, Belgium, on 7 March.

Like previous extension rounds, the meeting considered two periods: a first confirmation or extension period, for 2023–2026, and a second period (2027–2029) when a mission is considered for indicative extension[1,2].

ESA's science missions have unique capabilities and are prolific in their scientific output. The Space Science Advisory Committee found all the missions considered to have compelling science cases justifying a continuation of the operations during the 2023-2029 period. The SPC confirmed their continued operations, with a series of resolutions specific to the situation and context of each individual mission.

Gaia will exhaust its cold gas propellant (fundamental to carry out its precision pointing) in the second quarter of 2025 and will therefore transition to post-operations from mid-2025 onwards. Following the SPC decision to extend the Multilateral Agreement concerning Gaia data processing, the post-operations phase will be completed by 31 December 2030, ensuring the fourth and then final (fifth) data release.

The operations of XMM-Newton, ESA’s flagship x-ray observatory, are extended until December 2026, and indicatively until end of 2029.

The extension of three ESA-led missions, Cluster, Integral and Mars Express, all of which have been operational since over 20 years, were in jeopardy financially, as two new major missions (JUICE and Euclid) will be joining the fleet of missions in operations this year. For all three missions, ESA received strong and well-justified requests from the scientific community to extend the missions. ESA’s scientific advisory structure (the Astronomy Working Group, the Solar System Exploration Working Group, and the Space Science Advisory Committee) reviewed the science cases and supported further limited extensions. Thanks to some significant programmatic risks (related to JUICE and Euclid) having recently been retired, the SPC agreed to extend these three missions for a limited amount of time, using part of the Programme contingency in the years 2023-2025.

The Cluster scientific mission is extended until September 2024, when one of the four satellites will re-enter the Earth atmosphere. Two years of post-operations and monitoring of the spacecraft will follow, until re-entry of the last spacecraft in September 2026.

INTEGRAL science operations are extended until 31 December 2024, enabling support of the fourth international campaign of joint observations of gravitational waves by the network of instruments LIGO, Virgo, and KAGRA, currently planned to start in May 2023 and lasting for 18 months. This will be followed by two years of post-operations and monitoring of the spacecraft until re-entry in February 2029.

The science operations of Mars Express are extended until end of 2026 and the SPC also approved the indicative extension of Mars Express from 1 January 2027 to 31 December 2028, enabling support to the JAXA-led Mars Moons eXploration (MMX) mission. This will be followed by two years of post-operations; the extension to 2028 will be reviewed in 2025/2026, after MMX launch and arrival at Mars.

Regarding the contributions of ESA’s Science Programme to missions operated by partners, the SPC has approved the extension to 2026 and indicative extensions to 2029 of Hinode, Hubble, IRIS, and Cheops.

The contribution to SOHO is also confirmed throughout 2025, after which it will likely be phased out (following the launch of a next-generation solar mission), so it is assumed to transition to a two-year post-operations phase starting on 1 January 2026.

While the nominal operations of Solar Orbiter, BepiColombo and JWST finish in 2026 or 2027, a decision on their extension is considered premature given the recent start of their main operations and so it is deferred to the next cycle.

[1] Starting in 2022, the procedure for mission extensions foresees that the SPC will deliberate on extensions of missions in operations every three years and address all missions whose approved operations end within the following six years.

[2] All extensions are contingent on ongoing commitments and confirmations from national contributors and partners.

For further information, please contact:

Markus Kissler Patig
Head of the Science and Operations Department (SCI-S)
Directorate of Science
European Space Agency
Email: Markus.Kissler-Patig@esa.int

Last Update: 7 March 2023
23-Feb-2024 20:30 UT

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