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Future Missions Department

Future Missions Department

The Future Missions Department (SCI-F) in the Directorate of Science (D/SCI) is responsible for the definition of ESA's space science missions and for their technology preparation, via the Core Technology Programme, with a view to enabling their implementation. The Department is also in charge of implementing PRODEX (an optional ESA programme) and small fast-track science missions. In addition, the Department provides general support to the Directorate for payload validation activities and expertise.

Future Science Missions

The core objective of the Cosmic Vision Plan is to ensure a quasi-regular sequence of missions that address the Cosmic Vision objectives and reflect the Science Programme needs. New missions are proposed by the science community and follow a thorough competitive process before being proposed for selection by the Science Programme Committee (SPC). The current approach to mission selection and implementation can be summarised as follows, with a timeline that depends on the size of the mission in question:

  1.  A Call for Mission Proposals is issued by ESA with specific boundaries in place, including budget and launch date.
  2.  Mission proposals are submitted by the scientific community.
  3.  Proposals are screened by ESA for feasibility.
  4.  Feasible proposals are scientifically assessed through a peer review process involving ESA's Science Advisory Structure, including the Space Science Advisory Committee (SSAC). One or more candidate missions are identified and initial feasibility studies take place.
  5.  A final down-selection to one mission for implementation is performed through a peer review process and SSAC scientific review, followed by a decision by the SPC.
  6.  The mission is subject to a detailed study phase to demonstrate its technical and programmatic feasibility, including technology readiness.
  7.  The mission is adopted by the SPC for implementation.
  8.  The space and ground segments are developed.
  9.  The spacecraft is launched.
  10.  The spacecraft is operated in orbit and science data are delivered.

This bottom-up selection process aims at reaching both scientific and technical excellence, by identifying the best mission to implement at a given time, for specified budget and schedule boundaries.

The contribution of the Future Missions Department to all new missions covers steps 1 to 7. This Department also covers steps 8 and 9 for small fast-track missions, and contributes, for larger missions, to the payload and ground segment developments (step 8) through the PRODEX optional programme.

For medium-size (M-class) and large (L-class) flagship missions, following the mission adoption by the SPC, the mission implementation responsibility is transferred to the Project Department (SCI-P), in charge of developing the space segment up to the commissioning phase in orbit. Following in-orbit commissioning, the mission implementation responsibility is transferred from SCI-P to the Science Operations Department (SCI-O), in charge of the mission operations.

The Mission Preparation Phase

The period from the Call outcome (step 4) to the mission adoption (step 7) is called the Mission Preparation Phase. Its duration depends on the nature of the mission: for flagship large (L-class) missions (the JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE) mission; the Advanced Telescope for High-ENergy Astrophysics (Athena) - an X-ray observatory; the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA), a gravitational wave observatory), it can be up to seven or eight years, because these missions generally require cutting-edge technologies and demanding pre-developments to enable the mission adoption. For medium-sized (M-class) missions, the preparation phase is about four to five years with (limited) technology developments. For fast-track small (S-class) missions, this phase is less than two years with no technology developments.

While the end objective of the Mission Preparation Phase is to enable the mission adoption by the SPC, it is in practice subdivided in two sub-phases as follows:

  1. The Assessment Phase, corresponding to Phases 0 and A.
  2. The Definition Phase, corresponding to Phase B1.

Once a candidate mission is selected for assessment (step 4), it is first subject to a Phase 0 system study that is carried out by the Agency with the participation of the mission proposers from the scientific community. The Phase 0 study results are used to initiate (possibly parallel) Phase A industrial studies, and the mission selection by the SPC (step 5) generally occurs at the end of Phase A. The mission is then subject to a detailed industrial study (Phase B1, step 6), with a view to enabling its final adoption by the SPC (step 7).

Prior to adoption, the mission status is subject to a thorough independent ESA review, called the Mission Adoption Review, organised under the authority of ESA's Inspector General Office. The review evaluates the mission definition maturity, technology readiness and implementation risks. A dedicated review panel is devoted to the mission programmatic elements including cost, schedule and interfaces with partners. The review results are made available to the SPC and constitute, together with the SSAC scientific assessment, the basis of ESA's recommendation to the SPC to implement the mission. The mission adoption by the SPC is a major decision authorizing the Agency to proceed to the implementation phase (step 8).

ESA Science Core Technology Programme

The Future Missions Department is in charge of the Core Technology Programme (CTP), which is a budget in the Science Programme devoted to the technology preparation of future science missions. For each new L-class or M-class mission, all technology development and pre-development activities are implemented during the Mission Preparation Phase. Following the mission adoption, activities that are not completed at that time (while not jeopardizing the mission adoption) are generally transferred to the ESA Project Team in charge of the mission implementation.

A guiding principle is that a mission must have reached a Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of 5-6 to be adopted, which means that the critical base technology developments of the spacecraft and science instruments must be completed by this time. The effective time available for these technology developments to take place varies with the mission type. For L-class missions dozens of critical technology activities might be needed and these activities may take place over a period of seven or eight years. For M-class missions this is closer to two or three years.

The Core Technology Programme is key to allowing for timely mission implementation. In addition, for L-class missions, intermediate results obtained through technology developments may also feed into the mission definition studies and support major design trade-offs. Industrial geographical distribution constraints are taken into account, in particular during the Phase B1, for enabling the mission implementation within the Science Programme boundary constraints.

The Core Technology Programme focuses on both platform and payload technologies, and addresses all elements that are to be developed by ESA. For the science instrumentation elements that are provided by ESA Member States, critical technologies are generally developed by the respective lead funding agencies, in close coordination with ESA. The Core Technology Programme also works in close conjunction with ESA's Technology Research Programme, which focusses on the initial stages of new technology development, bringing them to proof-of-concept stage (TRL 3-4) before transferring them to the Core Technology Programme to increase the TRL level (TRL 5-6), by taking into account mission specific requirements.

Further details about the activities in the Technology Research Programme and the Core Technology Programme that support the implementation of the Cosmic Vision Plan can be found in the Technology Development Plan: Programme of Work and Related Procurement Plan.

PRODEX Programme

PRODEX is an optional programme devoted to science experiment developments. The PRODEX budget results from a direct subscription of the Member States participating in PRODEX that is generally renewed at the ESA Council meetings at Ministerial level. Fifteen Member States are participating in PRODEX in 2017, with an annual budget in the range of 50-60 Million Euro. PRODEX activities are decided by the PRODEX Participating States and implemented by the PRODEX Office (SCI-FE) with a guaranteed financial return.

PRODEX activities can widely address the science instrumentation and science ground exploitation, and are implemented through both dedicated agreements with scientific institutes and industrial contracts in the funding country. The largest set of activities are related to the Science Programme missions and cover Member States direct contributions to the science missions. PRODEX also supports many other ESA programmes and missions, such as Earth Observation, Robotic Exploration, and International Space Station missions, as well as national contributions to missions led by international partners such NASA, Roscosmos, and JAXA.

Small Fast-track Missions

The Future Missions Department is in charge of the definition and implementation of small (S-class) fast-track science missions. Over ninety percent of the Science Programme budget is assigned to the L- and M-class missions. The S-class missions are, as their name suggests, much smaller in scale and rely on existing technology. They are designed with rapid implementation in mind, typically going from mission adoption to launch in about four years.

The first S-class mission, the CHaracterizing ExOPlanet Satellite (CHEOPS), was adopted in 2014 and is targeted for launch readiness in late 2018.

Payload Technology Validation Activities

The Future Missions Department includes a dedicated capability for the validation of critical instrument related performance. The payload validation activities consist of mission specific instrument hardware characterisation made in the Department's laboratory facilities, such as specific detector performance verifications in thermal vacuum and cryogenic environment. The payload validation activities support the Science Directorate activities in all mission phases: future missions under definition, projects under development (e.g. Euclid), and missions in operation (e.g. Gaia). In addition to these mission related activities, a specific support is provided to research activities that are conducted in the Science Support Office (SCI-S).

Future Missions Department – Organisation details

The Future Missions Department is currently composed of:

  • The Mission Studies Office (SCI-FM), in charge of the System Definition Studies of the science missions from the Call for Missions to the mission adoption by the SPC, with two sections:
  • The Instrumentation Office (SCI-FI), in charge of all science instrumentation activities within the Department, excluding the direct responsibility for PRODEX-funded activities. SCI-FI is composed of two sections:
  • SCI-FE: the PRODEX Office, in charge of implementing the PRODEX optional programme,
  • SCI-FT: the Technology Preparation Section, in charge of preparing and monitoring the implementation of the technology development plans to enable the missions,
  • SCI-FC: the team in charge of implementation of the CHEOPS mission.
Last Update: 1 September 2019
24-Sep-2019 09:39 UT

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