Space Agency Profiles: The European Space Agency (Part III)

Space Agency Profiles: The European Space Agency (Part III)

Space Agency Profiles: The European Space Agency (Part III)

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By Dr. Gary Deel, Ph.D., J.D.
Faculty Director, School of Business, American Military University

This article is the third article of a four-part series profiling space agencies around the world. In this article, we’ll explore the ESA’s expansion of Horizon 2000 with Horizon 2000+ and Cosmic Vision.

Given that the vast majority of the Horizon 2000 missions were successful and far exceeded their originally intended lifespans, the ESA reconvened in 1994, 10 years after the original Horizon 2000 planning. ESA members put together an addendum to the original plan, which came to be known as Horizon 2000+.

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Horizon 2000+ Created Three Additional Space Missions for ESA

Horizon 2000+ added three more key missions to the European Space Agency’s agenda, which would carry well into the new century:

  • Gaia – Gaia is an observational satellite launched in 2013. Its focus is astrometry, and its mission is to measure the precise positions of billions of different objects in our own Milky Way galaxy.

Gaia has a five-year mission duration, but the ESA has budgeted for another two to four years, provided that the satellite is still healthy at that time. Given the past propensity for ESA equipment to outlive its expectations, this longevity seems likely.

  • Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) Pathfinder – Formerly known as the Small Missions for Advanced Research in Technology-2 (SMART-2), the LISA Pathfinder mission consisted of a spacecraft launched in 2015. It put two masses into perfect gravitational free-fall orbit and then measured the distances between them with unprecedented accuracy (less than .01 nanometer) with the intent of using this technology to detect gravitational waves.

The mission was a success and was completed within two years. LISA Pathfinder was instrumental in paving the way for the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) mission.

  • BepiColombo – BepiColombo is a joint effort between the ESA and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). This mission will send two satellites to the planet Mercury: the Mercury Planet Orbiter (MPO) and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO).

BepiColombo’s mission is to gather new data on Mercury, including its surface topography, interior structure and magnetic field dynamics. It is slated to launch in October of this year and won’t arrive at Mercury until 2025. The satellites will also make flybys of Earth and Venus before arrival at Mercury.

In addition to the major milestones of the Horizon 2000 and Horizon 2000+ plans, the ESA also developed a host of other separate missions, including the Living Planet Programme and dozens of smaller programs.

ESA Develops Cosmic Vision and European Space Policy

But for the new century, the ESA decided to develop an all-new mission agenda with an all-new name. Between 2004 and 2006, agency leaders met with their key stakeholders and international counterparts to develop a visionary plan for the next stage in space study and exploration.

The new plan was dubbed the Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 (more commonly known as “Cosmic Vision”). It established four key research questions to be tackled:

  1. What are the conditions for planet formation?
  2. How does the solar system work?
  3. What are the fundamental physics laws of the universe?
  4. How did the universe originate and what is it made of?

Around the same time, ESA directors and European Union (EU) leaders held a joint meeting in Brussels to discuss the future of space investment in Europe. Out of that meeting came a future directive known as the European Space Policy. The policy laid out a framework of ideas for improving the efficiency and efficacy of Europe’s space programs, given that they recognized a significant disparity between the ESA and foreign capabilities such as those of the U.S. and Russia.

The new policy proposed renewed efforts to augment civil space programs, to explore the possibility of synergy and interoperability between military and civilian space applications, and to expand access to space for all member states of the EU. More specifically, the policy spoke to a few key areas:

  • Satellites: Continued development and improvement of the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) satellite capabilities and the European global positioning system (GPS) satellite array known as Galileo.
  • Launch systems: The need for Europe to maintain its own, independent launch systems and sites on the continent, in the interest of autonomous access to space as needed.
  • International Space Station (ISS): Reaffirmation of the ESA’s commitment to contribution and cooperation with other nations on the ISS, through its eventual de-orbiting sometime in the 2020s.
  • Science and technology: Research and development in science and technology that will both avoid future dependency on foreign nations and give Europe a leading role in 21st-century economic development.

The new Cosmic Vision mission agenda — guided by the new European Space Policy — grouped a series of astrophysics, fundamental physics, and solar system exploration missions into categories that it called small class, medium class, and large class missions. Small class missions have an estimated cost of not more than €50M, medium-class missions cost no more than €500M, and large class missions were capped at €900M.

Originally, ESA intended that large class missions would be partnerships with other international space agencies. However, when the European Space Agency realized that the budgets for space agencies in foreign nations (e.g. NASA) were insufficient to support these projects, the ESA scaled back their scope in anticipation of having to fund them entirely on its own.

In the final installment of this article series, we’ll look at the specifics of the Cosmic Vision mission agenda and the progress that the ESA has made to date in realizing it.

About the Author

Dr. Gary Deel is a Faculty Director with the School of Business at American Military University. He holds a J.D. in Law and a Ph.D. in Hospitality/Business Management. Gary teaches human resources and employment law classes for American Military University, the University of Central Florida, Colorado State University and others.