Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Planetary Science and ESA's L Class

The last few weeks have been crazy, as the European planetary science community has been organising itself to submit responses to ESA's call for science themes for its L2 and L3 missions, slated for 2028 and 2034, respectively.  Despite the selection of JUICE (the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer) as the first L-class mission, for launch in 2022, the planetary science community was urged to actively participate in this call.  After all, there's no shortage of exciting, ambitious and ground-breaking ideas for the exploration of our solar system, addressing themes and questions right at the heart of ESA's Cosmic Vision.

The L class missions are the cornerstones of ESA's scientific programme.  SOHO, Cluster, Rosetta, XMM-Newton and Herschel are good examples of the scope and ambition required; along with Gaia and BepiColombo which are currently being implemented.  The L missions are interspersed with the smaller 'M' missions, in which planetary science missions like EChO (the exoplanet characterisation observatory) and Marco-Polo-R (asteroid sample return) are currently competing for M3.    ESA wanted an open community consultation for the science themes to be addressed by the next L missions, and given the long decadal timescales, it's not surprising that it's been the younger members of the planetary community (postdocs and research fellows in search of permanent positions, hint hint) who have jumped at this opportunity.  Every now and then, it's nice to look at the bigger picture, about why we believe it's so important to continue the exploration of planetary environments in our solar system and beyond.

Here's a round up of some of the planetary science white papers that have been flying around over these past few weeks, and I sincerely hope that some of them will inform ESA's planning, technology development and international collaborations in the next few decades!  Eventually I'll include links to the finished papers, but here's an incomplete list of topics, in no particular order:

[UPDATE!  All the L2/L3 White Papers are now available as an e-book available from ESA's website here, and the majority of the topics described below have been selected for presentation in Paris in September 2013].
Cover for the planetary science
observatory and the giant planet 

entry probes, themes obviously close to
my heart!

Joint Exploration of Titan and Enceladus (Gabriel Tobie and Nick Teanby)

The Exploration of Titan with an Orbiter and a Lake-Probe (Guiseppe Mitri)

Exploring Planetary Origins and Environments in the Infrared:  A Planetary Science Infrared Observatory (PSIO)  (Leigh Fletcher)

In Situ Exploration of the Giant Planets and a Saturn Entry Probe Concept (Olivier Mousis and Leigh Fletcher)

The Science Case for an Orbital Mission to Uranus (Chris Arridge)

Neptune and Triton:  Essential Pieces of the Solar System Puzzle (Adam Masters)

Venus Exploration (Colin Wilson)

Venus: A Natural Planetary Laboratory (Sanjay Limaye)

Main Belt Comet Mission (Geraint Jones)

In Situ Exploration of the Diversity of the Asteroid Belt  (Pierre Vernazza)

Exploring Habitable Worlds Beyond our Solar System (Andreas Quirrenbach,

Lunar Science as a Window into the Early History of the Solar System  (Ian Crawford)

In-Situ Investigations of the Local Interstellar Medium (likely featuring giant planet flyby) (Robert F. Wimmer-Schweingruber)

European Ultraviolet-Visible Observatory (EUVO) (Ana Inés Gómez de Castro)

The ODINUS Mission Concept:  The Scientific Case for a Mission to the Ice Giant Planets with Twin Spacecrafts to Unveil the History of our Solar System (Diego Turrini)

Master: A Mission to Return a Sample from Mars to Earth (Monica Grady)

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