ESA - Information Note
Nr 20-97 - Paris, 16 June 1997  

ESA is now a major player in global space science

In 1997 spacecraft built by the European Space Agency are opening new windows on our Universe and offering new prospects for scientific discovery.

Besides these missions making present headlines, several other spacecraft are helping to fulfil ESA's scientific objectives.

ESA's table d'hote for space scientists

Besides the spacecraft mentioned earlier, ESA is actively working on:

Prominent among other enticing possibilities is Mars Express, a high-level, low-cost mission that could set off for the Red Planet in 2003. It would give Europe an important stake in the exploration of Mars, by remote sensing from an orbiter and by experiments in landers. The latter can exploit ESA's experience in preparing for the Huygens mission to Titan. Some of the Mars experiments should be readily adaptable from instruments prepared for other missions.

ESA is also considering SMART missions, using small satellites to test key technologies. Solar-electric propulsion, long seen as a much-needed advance in spacecraft engines, could take a small spacecraft to the Moon and then onwards to an asteroid. A second candidate for a SMART mission would develop "drag free" technologies for testing Einstein's theory of gravity.

Other possibilities under review include participation in a replacement for the Hubble Space Telescope, and opportunities for science associated with the International Space Station. In addition, three major projects have been selected by Europe's space scientists as long-term goals.

A spacecraft to orbit the hot planet Mercury, barely explored till now, will shed new light on the history of the Solar System. An astronomical interferometric mission using two or more telescopes in combination will observe the stars and galaxies more accurately by visible or infrared light. And a novel kind of astronomy is promised by an ambitious gravitational-wave mission to detect radiation predicted by Einstein's theory of gravity, which supposedly stretches and squeezes space itself.

In short, ESA is delivering superb space science and, if future funding allows, has exciting ideas for the new millennium.

Note to Editors : A picture is available of a huge cloud of hydrogen gas around Comet Hale-Bopp. This image illustrates two areas of space science where ESA leads : comet research and solar research. The image is from SOHO's SWAN instrument, the primary task of which is to chart the solar wind.