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Hot prospect. ESA's Solar Orbiter is one of the newly approved projects.

European Panel Backs Hubble Successor

NASA scientists and engineers working on the Next Generation Space Telescope (NGST)--a huge optical telescope designed to succeed the aging Hubble--just received a boost from across the Atlantic. In Paris, the Space Science Advisory Committee (SSAC) today recommended that the European Space Agency (ESA) become a major partner in the project. NASA is delighted. ESA's participation is "critical to NASA," says Rick Howard, NGST's project executive at the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The NGST, currently on NASA's drawing boards, will be an 8-meter space telescope and is slated for launch around 2008. ESA's contribution, according to the SSAC, should consist of a near-infrared multiobject spectrometer, an instrument that will measure the distance to far-off galaxies. In addition, ESA plans to participate in a mid-infrared camera/spectrometer, which will be built by several European countries. The agency will also help construct and operate the spacecraft itself. Such active participation is "a must for astronomy in Europe," as it will secure European access to NGST, says Giovanni Bignami, science director of the Italian Space Agency. ESA plans to spend some $150 million on the telescope, but individual countries are expected to chip in some additional money, says Bignami.

The committee also approved another joint project with NASA: LISA, a laser interferometer project for detecting gravity waves. ESA missions to get the green light are the Solar Orbiter, a spacecraft that will study the sun while orbiting it at close distance; Bepi-Colombo, a Mercury mission; and GAIA, which will determine the positions of stars with unprecedented precision.

The proposals must still be okayed by ESA's Science Policy Council, a body made up of representatives of European governments, on 11 and 12 October. In the past, the council has generally approved projects recommended by the SSAC.

Related sites
ESA's future missions
NASA's Next Generation Space Telescope site