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RAS President welcomes new commitments to astronomy and space science

Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 April 2010 13:37
Published on Friday, 28 November 2008 00:00
RAS President Professor Andy Fabian has welcomed the Europe-wide proposals for astronomy set out in the ASTRONET report and the agreement by European ministers to invest nearly 10 billion euros in space science.
In the last few days European astronomy and space science have taken two major steps forward.
Firstly, European astronomers published the ASTRONET roadmap, which sets out the research priorities for astronomy for the next 20 years. ASTRONET pulled together scientists and research agencies from across Europe and tasked them with looking at the key scientific goals and how they might be met. These come under broad headings like understanding the extremes of the Universe, how galaxies form and evolve, the origin and evolution of stars and planets and how we (humanity) fit in.

The ASTRONET report considers proposals for new facilities on the ground and in space. Ground-based projects include the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) - a 40-m class optical-infrared telescope being developed by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) with a construction decision expected by 2010; the Square Kilometre Array – a huge radio telescope being developed by a global consortium with an intended 40% European share with construction beginning in 2012 and a 4-m European Solar Telescope to be built in the Canary Islands.

In space the astronomers backed a range of projects, placing a high priority on missions such as the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) designed to detected gravitational waves; the International X-ray Observatory (XEUS / IXO), the LAPLACE mission to Jupiter and the TandEM mission to Saturn’s moons Titan and Enceladus.
On Wednesday, ministers from the member states of the European Space Agency (ESA) agreed a major package of investment in space exploration. The total budget for 2009-11 now stands at 9.948 billion euros and includes 0.8 billion euros from the UK. For the UK the commitment to the Aurora programme of Solar System exploration is particularly important and includes ExoMars, a large rover laboratory that will explore the surface of Mars from around 2016. The new investment will also fund two flagship missions, including either LAPLACE or TandEM. ESA will now move to the second stage of the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES), leading to the launch of new Earth monitoring satellites.

And in an important move for the UK, for the first time Britain will have its own ESA facility, to be built at the Harwell Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire.

RAS President Professor Andy Fabian welcomed the news. “European astronomers and space scientists are some of the most ambitious in the world. To come together and set astronomy goals through ASTRONET is a major achievement. If these projects go ahead we can expect a suite of incredible discoveries in the next 20 years.

‘And this week’s decision by ESA ministers demonstrates a real commitment to exploitation of space for scientific aims, with political leaders recognising the outstanding nature of work carried out across the continent. I’m particularly pleased to see the first ESA facility in the UK – work there should inspire a new generation of scientists and engineers.”


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