ESA's Cosmic Vision program may end up launching an extrasolar Earth-hunting telescope

Thursday, December 03, 2009

From here. The article is about a number of missions the ESA is considering launching in 2017 and 2018, many of which look like they could run over the expected budget of 475 million euros. But don't worry, because the two best missions also happen to be the cheapest, running under the expected budget. Here is the chart showing the six missions and their expected costs:

The most expensive one, Marco Polo, is pretty interesting and involves sending a probe to an asteroid and back with a sample. That would be a nice mission to be able to do if it wasn't so expensive, and besides, the Spica and Plato missions will be better in the long run. Here's why:

Spica - this one is an infrared telescope that will enable us to study the formation of planets.

Plato - a telescope constructed to monitor half of the sky in order to find planets like ours around nearby bright stars. Perfect.

The others are interesting in an esoteric sort of way, but will not make any difference in the amount of excitement the public feels about space. Euclid is a telescope to look into dark matter out to 10 billion LY and is a bit over budget, Cross-Scale is a group of spacecraft that would map the plasma around the Earth and is very over budget, and Solar Orbiter would study the Sun and is slightly over budget. So the question of which two missions to go with really is a no-brainer. If Marco Polo was one of the cheaper ones then perhaps, but it simply doesn't warrant the extra cost.


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