A New Year message from the Director of the Science Programme of ESA
9 January 2002Dear Colleagues,The year 2001 has been a transition year in the real meaning of the word. There were no launches this year. However four missions (INTEGRAL, Rosetta, SMART-1, Mars Express) are currently being prepared and will be launched within the next 18 months. The industrial contract for Herschel-Planck was signed. At the same time we started preparatory work on several missions selected in late 2000, Gaia, Solar Orbiter, BepiColombo, NGST, LISA and Eddington, as well as a crash exercise to look at a re-use of the Mars Express bus, (Venus Express).
It is probably the impact of the other 'transitions' which took place this year that will be remembered most in the years to come. The most momentous transition was the departure of Professor Roger M. Bonnet, who on 30 April 2001 left the post of Director of the Science Programme, which he occupied since 1983. I took over from Roger Bonnet on May 1st. His achievements do not need to be repeated here and the gratitude of the entire European space science community and the staff of the Science Programme for his legacy was very clear when he left. He created the concept of a long-term programme and the resulting consensus within the space science community, that are now seen as the norm.
A second transition has been a re-organisation of the Space Science Department at ESTEC. This re-organisation, initiated by Professor Bonnet, has been completed in the last six months. The new department is now called the Research and Scientific Support Department (RSSD). The Department is to be seen to be at the service of the European space science community, throughout development (through provision of study and project scientists) and after launch, in the field of science operations.
However it will also undertake a new role in assisting in the early development of payloads. The latter task is particularly important. The complexity and cost of payloads is increasing and the Executive is receiving more and more warnings from ESA Delegations that the cost of payloads has become unbearable. Nevertheless, we wish to keep instrument development in the space community as much as we can. Accordingly the Science Programme, besides implementing measures aimed at decreasing the cost of instruments by providing common subsystems and displacing the spacecraft-payload interface in a direction favourable to the instrument, has now set up the Science Payload Technology Division within RSSD, and to coordinate with national programmes, the Science Payload Technology Consultative Group.
The third transition results from the decision endorsed at the Science Programme Committee (SPC) in December to move to a planning to match closer reduced expectations of future financial resources, based on the decisions taken at the Council meeting at Ministerial level in Edinburgh (November 2001). Clearly, the previously published plan which the scientific community cherished, as both balanced and timely, offering a mix of flagship missions and smaller, flexible missions, cannot be implemented. The drafting of a realistic plan will occupy the first half of the coming year and will involve the scientific community of Europe through the full advisory structure, enlarged if appropriate, as well as the Science Programme Committee. Some guidelines can be seen now: launched missions will have to be extended as long as possible, international collaboration will have to be promoted, re-use of platforms will have to be pushed.
European space science flagships (cornerstones) are going to be difficult to sustain if the economic constraints continue. Because of this, I have indicated publicly that I felt that the Science Programme would be moving "off the gold standard".
European space industry has also to be challenged in the next few months to see what part they can play. The stability and long term planning of the programme is something that works to industrys advantage and gives them the opportunity to make their own long-term planning. Moreover, the technical demands of the science programme both allow the honing of skills and, most importantly, developing new ones. With the help of the Directorate of Industrial Matters and Technology (D/IMT), we shall be looking with industry large and small to see if there are ways we can improve the technological investment and procurement procedures of the programme to everyone's benefit.
I am taking the new situation as a challenge. At the same time you can rest assured that I will strive to engage all those interested across Europe to work together to plan a new Science Programme which will enable us to look with confidence and expectation into the future.
With my best wishes to all of you for a successful 2002.
Director of the Science Programme of ESA