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New Year Message from the Director of the Science Programme

New Year Message from the Director of the Science Programme

31 December 2000

Seventeen years ago the Horizon 2000 plan was formulated and then approved in January 1985 in Rome. It took seventeen years to prepare and have its first two Cornerstones operating in orbit, giving the year 2000 (if necessary) another mythical significance.The double launch of Cluster using two consecutive Starsem-Soyouz rockets from Baokonur this year on 16 July and 9 August allowed the fleet of four Cluster satellites (Salsa, Samba, Rumba and Tango) to rejoin the fully operating SOHO mission, realising the dream of the first Cornerstone, STSP.The second Cornerstone, XMM-Newton, was launched on 10 December 1999 and a continuous stream of results is now regularly coming out of this mission. Their scientific quality is first class, and the European scientific community can be proud of it. They were recently shown to the press on 6 December. They stunned every one.

Seventeen years for half of the dream to come true! Seven more will be needed to complete this menu with the launch of Rosetta in January 2003 and of Herschel-FIRST (together with the Planck Surveyor) in early 2007.

Even though these missions at the time of their launch, were, or will be, second to none, this is just too long and measures must be taken to increase the number of missions per unit of time!

The Executive has done its part, accelerating the schedule with new management procedures in industry and in-house, implementing a drastic policy of savings, making missions simpler and therefore more frequent. This has been possible because Industry and ESA teams have matured with an increased technical level, because early technology developments have been more focused and managed as small projects, and because of the use of recurrent systems and subsystems, and recourse to competition, etc: Mars Express is clearly the cheapest (and probably the fastest overall) mission to Mars ever programmed.

Doing more than that would put the whole programme at risk. It would be imprudent to do so! Hence going beyond that point is only possible if more resources are granted!

The Science Programme is neither poor nor rich in an absolute sense: it has the money that the Member States give, using it as said with increasing efficiency. Still, if the NASA Science Programme will benefit from a regular increase of funds (which seems the case, if one believes the increasingly optimistic extrapolations of the NASA Office of Space Science budgets), and the European Space Science programme will continue to lose buying power, the European space science activities will be marginalised, and all the efforts made so far to achieve an always precarious leadership in many areas, either alone or with NASA, will have been in vain.

This would not be in line with the joint ESA-EU strategy for space. It would also be hard to match that situation with the statements of the heads of governments in Lisbon earlier this year that Europe should "become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world". This noble and ambitious goal is certainly not compatible with an approach that would lead to abandoning entire fields of science, a logical consequence if nothing is done to cope with the increasing demands of our scientific community.

It is in this context that the last mission selection process took place starting with a call for F-mission ideas, which was already issued on 1 October 1999. This somewhat traditional exercise was performed in a new way, coupled with the selection of the order of the next Cornerstones.

In the end, an elegant package consisting of five missions and one reserve was proposed:

  • Cornerstone N05: BepiColombo to explore the planet Mercury, to be launched in 2009 in collaboration with Japan;
  • Cornerstone N06 or N07: Gaia, which will analyse the composition, formation and evolution of our Galaxy by mapping with unprecedented precision one billion stars, to be launched no later than 2012;
  • Cornerstone N06 or N07: LISA, the first gravitational waves space observatory, in collaboration with NASA, at the cost of one Flexi-mission;
  • The NGST, the Next Generation Space Telescope (NGST), again in collaboration with NASA;
  • The Solar Orbiter, the successor of the SOHO and Ulysses missions;
  • The "reserve" Flexi-mission Eddington, a mission to map stellar evolution and find habitable planets, which could be implemented depending on the NGST and LISA schedules or provision of further resources.

These are all exciting missions, which could be implemented between 2008 and 2013. However, some of you in the science community and within the SPC would like to accelerate the pace, in particular for Gaia. This is only possible if more resources are brought to the programme and sufficient money is set aside in the Member States to develop the required payloads. Hence we expect that there will be increased pressure from you, the scientific community, to ensure that Science should benefit from the decisions which will be taken at the next Council meeting at ministerial level at the end of 2001.

Other important events this year were

  • the approval of the extension of the Ulysses mission until 30 September 2004
  • the approval of the implementation of the ISO active archives in VILSPA, from 2002 to 2006
  • the decision by the SPC to support the Mars Express Beagle 2 lander, under certain conditions, to make sure that in about three years, we can say with pride "the Beagle has landed".

In addition, a major and extraordinary communication/outreach effort was undertaken in 2000 to show to Europe and the rest of the world what Europe can do at its best!

Coming back to the Cluster launches, their success is directly due to hundreds of people, including the joint Russian-Starsem launch teams, who have impeccably concluded their work, the engineering teams at ESA and in industry, and the scientists in the Cluster community, who are beginning the scientific work for which they have been waiting for so many years. The four spacecraft are healthy and their commissioning is being completed, while several instruments have already started their observations.

Indeed this mission, besides a fundamental scientific content, also has a highly symbolic value. With these launches, we have experienced the end of a five year long nightmare and finally restored the full first cornerstone of Horizons 2000. Above all, we have demonstrated that the ESA Science Programme does not abandon any mission, once it is decided, come what may. Interestingly enough, impossible recoveries seem to be the standard for the first cornerstone of Horizons 2000. SOHO was all but lost in 1998, but we did not give it up. Our determination formed the core for a joint effort by all partners, which brought about a full recovery of the mission. Cluster was lost in June 1996, but is now reborn. This recovery is a unique accomplishment, of which all Europeans can rightly be proud. Its success is based on the unanimous support by the Member States together with NASA, the European industry and the space science community.

Thus, it is with pride for the past achievements and confidence in reason for the future that the Programme closes the year 2000. And it is with particular warmth that I wish to everybody who is interested in the Science programme of ESA, and therefore also to our visitors on the web, a Happy New Year.

Last Update: 1 September 2019
23-Jun-2024 17:09 UT

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