Brussels, 08 Mar 2004
Leading European space researchers have sent a resolution to the director general of the European Space Agency (ESA) to express their concern that surface science is not sufficiently represented in upcoming missions.
The resolution follows a recent meeting to discuss landing targets and technology at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR). At that meeting, future lander missions to the Moon, Mars and Jupiter's moon Europa all received widespread support from the assembled experts.
'We decided to send a resolution to the director general of ESA, saying [that] in-situ science is not represented very well in the Agency's programme at the moment,' the DLR's Dr Stephen Ulamec is reported as saying.
The scientists want ESA to address the fact that there are currently no landers planned for future missions. They also agreed to set up three working groups to look into landers for missions to the Moon, Mars and small bodies such as comets respectively, with a view to submitting proposals to ESA's Solar System advisory committee.
Other issues discussed at the meeting included the possibility of designing a generic lander that could be used repeatedly on different missions. Professor Colin Pillinger, who designed Beagle 2, said that the lost Mars Express lander could be used as the template for such a generic design.
'Orbiters are all very nice, but there's nothing quite like getting your hands dirty on the surface,' said Professor Pillinger.
Another proposal that generated a lot of support at the event was a lander mission to Europa. One of Jupiter's largest satellites, Europa is covered in a crust of ice 25 kilometres thick which many believe may cover a warm ocean. This makes it an ideal target in the search for life within the Solar System.
'Despite the fact Europa is perhaps the most interesting target in the Solar System, it will be very, very difficult and expensive to get there,' said Dr Norbert Krupp from the Max Planck Institute of Aeronomy.
Some believe that the best way of getting a lander onto Europa will be as part of NASA's proposed Jupiter icy moons orbiter (JIMO) mission. Dr Krupp argued that many scientists on both sides of the Atlantic supported the inclusion of a lander in the mission, and his hope is that high level support from ESA could clear the way for European collaboration on JIMO and future NASA missions.