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Solar System Missions Section (SCI-FMP)

Solar System Missions Section (SCI-FMP)

The Solar System Missions Section (SCI-FMP), as part of the Mission Studies Division in the Future Missions Department of ESA's Science Directorate, is responsible for system studies (phases 0/A/B1) of science missions in the fields of Solar System and Planetary Exploration, which are candidates for the Science Programme. SCI-FMP also supports planning, monitoring, and development of associated technology developments.

SCI-FMP tasks include in particular:

  • Management of Solar System mission studies in phase 0/A/B1
  • Definition of mission and system requirements for internal and 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 field of Solar System and Planetary Exploration
  • Conducting studies in preparation of future Calls for Missions
  • Support to the assessment of ESA contributions to Missions of Opportunity from other space agencies
  • Interface to external entities/international partners when relevant

The Solar System Missions Section provides the Study Managers for the mission studies, as well as Technical Officers for some technology development activities related to the Section’s tasks.


The Section supports the technical and programmatic evaluation of Solar System-related Cosmic Vision proposals, submitted by the scientific community to ESA. The following calls have been supported so far:

The initial mission proposals selected from these calls are typically studied in the ESA Concurrent Design Facility (CDF) and followed by industrial studies. The following list of past and current Solar System science studies have been performed in close cooperation with the external science study teams, and industrial study teams:

  • Comet Interceptor (2019): has been selected as ESA's new fast-class mission in the Cosmic Vision Programme. The internal Phase 0 CDF study has been performed between June and November 2019. Following a successful Mission Definition Review (MDR), conducted in February 2020, CometInterceptor went into phase A.
  • EPIG Study (2019): the EPIG (ESA Probe for Investigation of the Giants) study explored the feasibility of a European "stand-alone" mission to the Ice Giants (or Saturn as back-up). It corresponds to an ESA internal assessment of the capabilities to use only European technology to explore the outer planets.
  • IceGiants Study (2018/2019): exploring potential ESA contributions to a NASA-led mission to the Ice Giants aimed at understanding the interior structure and bulk composition of the planet(s), including isotopes and noble gases.
  • EnVision (M5 candidate, 2018): The internal Phase 0 study of the M5 mission candidate EnVision has been performed at ESA's Concurrent Design Facility (CDF) between June and November 2018. Following a successful Mission Definition Review (MDR), conducted in October 2018, EnVision went into industrial phase A study, in competition with the SPICA and Theseus M5 candidate missions.
  • Small Planetary Platform (New Science Ideas study, 2017): a flexible mission concept with a small interplanetary mothercraft deploying a set of nanosatellites for multipoint observations of various solar system targets.
  • THOR (M-class, 2014 call): A mission in a high elliptical orbit exploring plasma energization in space turbulence. This M4 mission candidate has been selected for an on-going industrial phase A study, in competition with the XIPE and ARIEL M-class candidate missions.
  • SMILE (joint ESA – CAS call): A small mission investigating the Solar wind–Magnetosphere interactions in a high elliptical orbit. This mission has been selected for an industrial study phase to be started by end 2016.
  • Laplace (L-class, 2007 call): Later renamed to EJSM (in cooperation with NASA) and during the reformulation phase in 2011 renamed to JUpiter ICy moons Explorer - JUICE: An in-depth study of Jupiter and its moons with a focus on the formation of the Jovian system, how the system works, and the possibility that Jupiter’s moon, Europa, is habitable. JUICE was selected as the first large (L1) mission in ESA's Cosmic Vision programme in 2012.
  • MarcoPolo-R (M-class, 2010 M3 call): A mission to return a pristine sample of material from a primitive near-Earth asteroid for detailed analysis in ground-based laboratories. (See link to 'Four candidates selected for next medium-class mission in ESA's Cosmic Vision'.) Following the selection of PLATO for M3 Marco Polo-R was not continued into the definition phase.
  • Cross-Scale (M-class, 2007 M1/M2 call): A mission to revolutionise our understanding of three fundamental physical processes: shock waves, magnetic reconnection, and turbulence, which are associated with some of the most energetic phenomena in the Universe, from radio galaxy jets, supernovae remnants and cosmic rays to solar flares and magnetic storms. In February 2010, Cross-Scale was not selected to continue into the definition phase.
  • Marco Polo (M-class, 2007 M1/M2 call): A mission to return to Earth an unaltered sample from a near-Earth asteroid, facilitating the characterisation of a primitive Solar System body. In February 2010, Marco Polo was not selected to continue into the definition phase.
  • TandEM (Titan and Enceladus Mission) (L-class, 2007 call): A mission to carry out an in-depth investigation of Titan, an Earth-like organic-rich world and the Saturn System, with special emphasis on Enceladus. In February 2009, ESA and NASA chose EJSM-Laplace as the L1 outer Solar System mission candidate. (See 'NASA and ESA prioritize outer planet missions'.)


In preparation for the Cosmic Vision programme, the Solar System and Robotic Exploration Missions Section (as it was called until January 2016) studied a series of embryonic planetary exploration mission concepts, called Technology Reference Studies:

  • Clipper / Io or Europa Orbiter, or Europa Penetrator (2015)
  • Planetary Entry Probes (2010)
  • Near Earth Asteroid Sample Return (2007)
  • Jovian System Explorer (2007)
  • Cross-Scale (2007)
  • Deimos Sample Return (2006)
  • Interstellar Heliopause Probe (2006)
  • Jovian Minisat Explorer (2005)
  • Venus Entry Probe (2005)
  • Solar Polar Orbiter (2004)

See also the overview on Technology Reference Studies (accessible from the link on the left-hand menu).


The Solar System Missions Section carries out technical and programmatic studies for Missions of Opportunity.

The following studies have been performed for candidate Missions of Opportunity:

  • KUAFU-B (2012)

Additional Former activities

For several years, the section supported the optional Mars Robotic Exploration Programme (MREP), until it was transferred to the Directorate of Human Spaceflight and Robotic Exploration Programmes in January 2016.

The following MREP CDF studies have been performed by SCI-FMP:

  • Phobos Sample Return (Phobos SR, CDF 2014)
  • Mars Moon Sample Return (MMSR/ Ariane 5, CDF 2012)
  • Mars Moon Sample Return (MMSR, CDF 2011)
  • Mars Network Science Mission (MNSM, CDF 2011)
  • Mars Atmospheric Sample Return (ASR, CDF 2010)
  • Mars Sample Fetching Rover (MarsRex, CDF 2009)
  • Mars Geodesy and Environment Network (MarsGen, CDF 2009)
  • Mars Surface Station Assessment (MarsLev, CDF 2009)

The following MREP industrial system studies have been completed by SCI-FMP:

  • Phobos Sample Return mission (PH-SR)2016).
  • Mars Network Science Mission (INSPIRE) (2014)
  • Mars Phobos Sample Return (PHOOTPRINT) (2014)
  • Mars Sample Return Orbiter System study (2011)
  • Mars Precision Lander System study (2011)
  • Sample Fetching Rover (2011)

SCI-FMP contributed in the framework of an international Mars Sample Return (MSR) study to the iMARS Phase II report, initiated by the International Mars Exploration Working Group (IMEWG) in April 2014.

Last Update: 10 September 2020
21-May-2024 04:01 UT

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