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Astrophysics and Fundamental Physics Missions Section (SCI-FMA)

Astrophysics and Fundamental Physics Missions Section (SCI-FMA)

The Astrophysics and Fundamental Physics Missions Section (SCI-FMA), as part of the Mission Studies Office in the Future Missions Department of ESA’s Science Directorate, is responsible for the system studies (phase 0/A/B1) of science missions in the fields of Astrophysics and Fundamental Physics which are candidates for the Science Programme. SCI-FMA also supports planning, monitoring, and development of technology developments in these science areas.

SCI-FMA tasks include in particular:

  • Management of Astrophysics and Fundamental Physics mission studies in phase 0/A/B1
  • Definition of mission and system requirements for internal ESA studies and for industrial studies
  • Definition of the corresponding mission Technology Development Plans
  • Development of specific related technologies required for future missions, in close cooperation with the Technology Preparation Section (SCI-FT)
  • Contributing to the evaluation of mission proposals originating from Calls for Missions in the fields of Astrophysics and Fundamental Physics
  • Conducting studies in preparation of future Calls for Missions
  • Conducting studies and supporting activities originating from the New Science Ideas call
  • Support to the assessment of ESA contributions to Missions of Opportunity from other Space Agencies
  • Interface to external entities/international partners when relevant


The Astrophysics and Fundamental Physics Missions Section is responsible for the assessment studies of numerous Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 mission candidates, providing the associated study managers (see Missions in Assessment Phase - link on left-hand menu). In addition, SCI-FMA provides Technical Officers for some technology development activities related to the SCI-FMA Section’s tasks.

The studies presently run by SCI-FMA are:

  • Athena (L2): The Advanced Telescope for High ENergy Astrophysics (selected L2-class mission), currently in Phase A. The Athena mission features an X-ray telescope with high resolution spectroscopy and wide-field spectrally-resolved imaging significantly exceeding the performance of existing X-ray observatories.
  • LISA (L3): a mission to detect and observe gravitational waves, covering the frequency range from 0.1 mHz to 1 Hz. The mission features a constellation of three identical satellites 2.5 million km apart, acting as a giant Michelson interferometer.
  • ARIEL: the Atmospheric Remote-Sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-Survey (an M4 candidate), currently in Phase A. ARIEL includes a 1-m class telescope with a near-infrared spectrometer for measuring the composition of the atmospheres of exoplanets.
  • XIPE: the X-ray Imaging and Polarimetry Explorer (an M4 candidate), currently in Phase A. XIPE is an X-ray telescope carrying three multi-shell Wolter I type mirrors and three polarimeters based on Gas Pixel Detector technology.
  • GaiaNIR (New Science Ideas study): an astrometry mission combining visible and near-infrared capability.

Past Studies

  • IXO: International X-ray Observatory, formerly known as XEUS, a precursor of Athena.
  • LOFT: The Large Observatory for X-ray Timing (M3-class candidate).
  • ECHO: The Exoplanet Characterization Observatory (M3-class candidate).
  • STE-QUEST: The Space-Time Explorer and QUantum Equivalence Principle Space Test (M3-class candidate).
  • Euclid: A dark universe observatory (M2).
  • PLATO: Planetary Transit and Oscillations of Stars (M3).
  • SPICA: Space IR Telescope for Cosmology and Astrophysics, a JAXA-led mission to which ESA would contribute within an M-class envelope.

Completed Studies in preparation to Cosmic Vision 2015-2025:

Last Update: 1 September 2019
21-Jan-2020 19:45 UT

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