ESA extends 11 missions until 2014

Posted by Emma Woollacott

The European Space Agency has decided to give a new lease of life to 11 of its operating space science missions. All are coming to the end of their funding - but still delivering important scientific results.

"It is not an easy time to make such commitments, but we should not doubt the wisdom of the SPC [Science Programme Committee] in squeezing even more return from the big investments of the past," says David Southwood, ESA's Director of Science and Robotic Exploration.

"The highest quality science will continue to flow from this armada of spacecraft. It is a good day for European space science. Europe will continue to play an important part in unlocking the mysteries of our universe."

Two years ago, ESA changed its financial planning system so that, every two years, it would give thorough consideration to extending the life of all missions approaching the end of their funding.

And now, it's evaluated and approved extensions to six missions it was leading itself, Cluster, Integral, Planck, Mars Express, Venus Express and XMM-Newton. Also extended were ESA's contributions to the international collaborative missions Hinode, Cassini-Huygens, Hubble Space Telescope and SOHO and science operations of ESA's Proba-2 technology demonstrator.

All will now be extended to 2014, subject to confirmation in late 2012 on the regular two-year cycle.

SOHO, Hinode and Proba-2 will now be able to observe the sun  closely during the rise to its next peak of magnetic activity, expected in 2013. Meanwhile, the four Cluster satellites will measure the effect of this activity in the Earth's magnetosphere.

Integral and XMM-Newton are high-energy observatories 'providing unique insights into the violent universe', says ESA. Mars Express and Venus Express are investigating Earth's nearest planetary neighbours, while Cassini-Huygens studies Saturn and its moons. And the Planck satellite is mapping the leftover radiation from the Big Bang, the 'cosmic microwave background radiation'.

"Their longevity is a testament to the care with which the industrial teams built these satellites, the expert way the project teams operate them, and the ingenuity of the scientists who keep thinking of new and valuable science investigations to make with them," says Martin Kessler, head of ESA's science operations department.