The ESA has chosen its large-class science mission themes for the timeframe between 2035 and 2050. The missions fall under the Voyage 2050 umbrella and will focus in part on moons orbiting some of the massive planets in the solar system. The mission will also investigate temperate exoplanets and the early universe. ESA director of science Gunther Hasinger says that the selection of Voyage 2050 themes is pivotal for the ESA science program.
The ESA issued calls for Voyage 2050 ideas in March 2019 and received almost 100 diverse project suggestions. Those suggestions were sorted into several specific science themes assigned to topical teams. The topical teams were comprised of many early-career through early scientists from a range of science expertise areas.
Those teams carried out an initial assessment of the themes and reported findings to a senior science committee. The committee was tasked to recommend science themes for the next three large-class missions following the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, Athena, and LISA. The Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer is the future outer solar system mission with advanced instruments that would focus on studying the connection between ocean-bearing moon interiors with the near-surface environment and search for potential biosignatures. This mission could include a lander or a drone.
The ESA also wants to conduct a mission to provide a detailed understanding of the galaxy’s formation history. Of particular interest are the hidden regions that scientists believe are key to understanding galaxies in general. Scientists intend to study temperate exoplanets and assess the likelihood of success and the feasibility of missions within the large mission boundary conditions.
The LISA mission aims to study how the universe began and would leverage advances made in instrumentation to open potential new discoveries in space. Additional study and interaction between the scientific community will converge on a mission addressing the theme. As for why it’s planning missions so far out, the ESA says that long-term planning is essential to ensure success for future space endeavors.