ESA Director of Science visits Applied Physics Laboratory
6 February 2002Following the disappointing outcome, for science funding, of the recent ESA Council of Ministers, the ESA Executive is exploring all avenues of increasing the science throughput of the ESA Science Programme against a continually declining budget.
In this frame, John Credland (Head of Scientific Projects Department) and Alvaro Gimenez (Head of Research and Scientific Support Department) accompanied Director of Science, David Southwood, on a visit to the Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, USA.
Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) is a division of the Johns Hopkins University and is now in the vanguard in the USA of doing efficient but ambitious space missions for the American space programme. The ESA representatives, accompanied by Frederic Nordlund from the ESA Washington Office, toured facilities and received presentations on recent and ongoing missions such as NEAR, which successfully completed its mission to study near-Earth objects with a hard landing on the asteroid Eros last year, and Mercury Messenger, which will scout the way for the ESA-Japanese BepiColombo mission to Mercury.
However, the central concern was the exchange of ideas between ESA staff and members of the APL Space Department on effective project management and methods for building challenging and original space missions to cost without compromising scientific aims. In this regard, Head of ESA's Scientific Projects Department, John Credland, said, "Their success speaks for itself. They work in a different environment to us but nevertheless we found a lot of common ground. We have come back with some challenges for ourselves and for European industry to think about."
The laboratory has its origins during the second World War and was founded originally to assist the United States Navy in bringing applied physics into the war effort. One of its early alumni was a young naval officer, James Van Allen, who would later discover the Earth's radiation belts. Among other firsts, APL scientists first established the principles of satellite navigation systems (Transit and GPS).