Paris, 16 Jul 2004
At the invitation of ESA and CNES, the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) is holding its 35th Scientific Assembly in Paris from 19 to 25 July. As happens every two years, scientists from all over the world are attending to take stock of their research findings.
Set up in 1958 at the dawn of the space age, COSPAR is an interdisciplinary science committee focusing on all research activities that deploy space systems - from balloons to satellites. With some 4000 scientists registered as Associates, this is one of the largest autonomous scientific organisations in the space sector, making it a key contributor to the development of international cooperation.
The 2004 Assembly already looks set to yield an exceptionally good COSPAR vintage, providing a wealth of topical attractions. The unprecedented harvest of data gathered by Mars probes - ESA's Mars Express orbiter, NASA's Spirit and Opportunity rovers - provide stimulating input for many of the presentations and discussions, as do the first results from the Cassini-Huygens duo entering orbit around Saturn and those of Europe's Smart-1 probe heading for the Moon.
Over a fortnight before the opening day, over 2000 researchers had already registered to attend. "This is a record", says Jean-Paul Paillé, ESA's coordinator for the event. "We are going to beat the figures for Houston 2002, when the Scientific Assembly had actually been twinned with the IAF's International Astronautical Congress".
This year's participants include two Nobel Prize winners, Paul Crutzen and Riccardo Giacconi, respectively honoured for their achievements in Chemistry (1995) and Physics (2002), along with heads of space agencies from around the world and representatives of industry.
ESA programmes in the spotlight
The space research results yielded by many ESA missions are being highlighted in numerous presentations during the ninety-four science sessions that proceed in parallel throughout the week. During Earth observation sessions, Nadine Gobron, of the European Commission's Joint Research Centre at Ispra (Italy), will be providing an assessment of the ongoing deployment of the Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (Meris) onboard ESA's Envisat satellite monitoring vegetation. Alain Hauchecorne, of the aeronomy unit at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) at Verrières-le-Buisson, will be presenting the results of the Global Ozone Monitoring by Occultation of Stars (Gomos) spectrometer also onboard Envisat, with atmospheric profiling of concentrations of ozone and nitrogen dioxide / trioxide at altitudes of 15 to 100 km.
Concerning solar system exploration, Jean-Pierre Bibring, of the Space Astrophysics Institute at Orsay, will be reporting on the observations performed to date by the Omega spectrometer on ESA's Mars Express mission, including the first data on the composition of the Red Planet's surface. Bernard Foing, chief project scientist on ESA's Smart-1 mission, will be reporting the first results provided by the science and technology payload instruments onboard this small European probe currently heading for the Moon powered by its plasma thruster engine. Philippe Lamy, of the CNRS Space Astronomy Laboratory at Marseille, will be addressing Hubble Space Telescope visible/infrared-region observation of the core of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, in preparation for ESA's Rosetta mission which is due to reach its target in ten years' time. François Raulin, CNRS exobiology research director, will be reporting the exo/astro/cosmobiological prospects for the ongoing Cassini-Huygens mission. The focus here is on studying the chemistry of Saturn's moon Titan. This could be very similar to that of the Earth at the dawn of life, the emergence of which is thought to have been frozen by temperatures of around – 180°C.
Deep space astronomy is also being covered. Professor Hans Böhringer, of the Max Planck Institute, will be explaining the results obtained by ESA's XMM-Newton observatory and NASA's Chandra mission, investigating the elements at the heart of galactic clusters.
Nor are the life sciences being forgotten. Several presentations will cover the impact of the space environment – whether in orbit or on the surface of other planets – on living organisms. Professor Roberto Marco of Madrid University will be reporting the results of experiments done during the Cervantes mission onboard the International Space Station concerning the effects of weightlessness on ageing and the drosophila fly's genes.
Space science the world over
With the Academy of Sciences of forty-two countries and twelve international scientific bodies among its members, COSPAR and its Assembly traditionally provide the perfect meeting place for researchers, from the major space powers but also from up-and-coming players of the space age, including a number of developing countries. Apart from the customary presentations of national initiatives, the event also provides an opportunity for rapprochement, exchanges and dialogue between researchers from highly diverse backgrounds, thus prompting innovative ideas for further international cooperation.
This year, a major delegation is expected from China, the venue for the 2006 Assembly being Beijing. This will provide an opportunity to take stock of China's advances in space in areas as diverse as crewed flight (less than a year after its very first national mission), the material sciences and near-Earth studies. And as the COSPAR proceedings draw to a close, China will be preparing to launch its second Tan Ce satellite flying ESA instruments under the joint Double Star programme, adding to the observation being done by ESA's Cluster constellation in the terrestrial magnetosphere.
The general public is also being courted, with free interdisciplinary opening sessions daily on major topical issues: Mars exploration, x-ray astronomy, Earth observation with Envisat, the search for signatures of life elsewhere in the universe, solar radiation and climate, and space oceanography. In addition, daily closing sessions allow open debates featuring the biggest names in space research, addressing the major space policy issues of our time: the space programmes of the future and international cooperation, space science in Europe, the future of crewed space flight, Mars exploration and global climate change.
COSPAR 2004 is being organised by the European Space Agency and the French space agency CNES. For ESA, this marks a kind of homecoming, as it was chiefly the European scientific community that was behind the establishment of its precursor European Space Research Organisation, ESRO, some forty years ago.
For more information, please contact:
ESA - Media Relations Service
Tel.: 33 (0) 1 53 69 72 99
Fax: 33 (0) 1 53 69 76 90
ESA representative, COSPAR 2004 Local Organising Committee
Tel.: 33 (0) 1 53 69 72 57