Cosmic Vision (also known as Cosmic Vision 2015–2025) is an European Space Agency (ESA) long-term space science missions programme spanning between years 2015 and 2025, a successor to the Horizon 2000 long-term scientific programme.
The initial call of ideas and concepts was launched in 2004 with a subsequent workshop held in Paris to define more fully the themes of the Vision under the broader headings of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Solar System Exploration and Fundamental Physics.
By early 2006 the formulation for a 10-year plan based around 4 key questions emerged:
- What are the conditions for planet formation and the emergence of life?
- How does the Solar System work?
- What are the fundamental physical laws of the Universe?
- How did the Universe originate and what is it made of?
In March 2007 a call for mission ideas was formally released, which yielded in 19 astrophysics, 12 fundamental physics and 19 Solar System mission proposals.
In March 2012 ESA announced it had begun working on a series of small class science missions. The first winning "S-Class" idea is set to receive 50 million euros (£42m) and will be readied for launch in 2017.
Small class missions (S-class) are intended to have a cost to ESA not exceeding 50 million euros. A first call for mission proposals was issued in March 2012. Approximately 70 letters of Intent were received. In October 2012 the first S-class mission was selected:
- S2, SMILE, a joint mission between ESA and the Chinese Academy of Sciences to study the interaction between Earth's magnetosphere and the solar wind. Selected on 4 June 2015 from 13 competing proposals, its launch is planned for 2021.
The Medium Class (M-class) projects usually are relatively stand-alone projects and have a price cap of approximately 500 million euros. The two first M-class missions, M1 and M2, were selected in October 2011:
- M1, Solar Orbiter, an adopted mission for close-up observations of the Sun; launch planned in 2017.
- M3, PLATO, a mission to search for exoplanets and measure stellar oscillations. Selected on 19 February 2014, its launch is planned for 2024. Other competing concepts that were studied included the four candidate missions EChO, LOFT, MarcoPolo-R and STE-QUEST.
M4 is still to be selected. Its launch is planned for 2025 and ESA announced a call for missions in August 2014 with a deadline of 15 January 2015. After a preliminary culling of proposals in March 2015, a short list of three mission proposals selected for further study was announced on 4 June 2015. The shortlist consisted of:
- ARIEL (Atmospheric Remote-Sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey) which would observe nearby exoplanets to determine their chemical composition and physical conditions.
- THOR (Turbulence Heating ObserveR) which would address a fundamental problem in space plasma physics concerned with the heating of plasma and the subsequent dissipation of energy.
- XIPE (X-ray Imaging Polarimetry Explorer) which would study X-ray emissions from high-energy sources such as supernovas, galaxy jets, black holes and neutron stars, to discover more about the behaviour of matter under extreme conditions.
A call for M5 mission proposals is currently planned for early 2016. Select proposals will be chosen for further study by June 2016, with down-selection to one mission occurring by November 2018. The launch is tentatively scheduled for the 2029-2030 timeframe, though missions of reduced complexity could be launched at earlier dates.
Originally it was intended that Large Class (L-class) projects were to be carried out in collaboration with other partners and should have an ESA cost not exceeding 900 million euros. However, in April 2011 it became clear that budget pressures in the US meant that an expected collaboration with NASA on the L1 mission would not be practical; so the down-selection was delayed and the missions re-scoped on the assumption of ESA lead with some limited international participation.
Two large missions have been selected:
- L1, JUICE (Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer), a selected mission to the Jupiter system (with heritage from Laplace); launch planned for 2022.
- L2, ATHENA (Advanced Telescope for High Energy Astrophysics), an X-ray observatory with a launch planned for 2028.
- L3 mission is still to be announced. ESA has selected the gravitational Universe science theme for its L3 mission. eLISA is a main candidate for L3 mission. It is a proposed space mission concept designed to detect and accurately measure gravitational waves. Its launch is planned for 2034.
Missions of opportunity
Occasionally ESA makes contributions to space missions led by another space agency. There is currently one candidate contribution within the Cosmic Vision: SPICA (Space Infrared Telescope for Cosmology and Astrophysics), a Japanese JAXA mission.
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