The biggest space missions gestate for the longest time. Today, the European Space Agency (ESA) revealed the three broad science themes it wants to pursue for large-scale missions of €1 billion or more that would launch between 2035 and 2050. They include a close look at icy moons around Jupiter and Saturn, dissecting the atmospheres of nearby exoplanets, and new ways to study the formation of the universe’s first stars, galaxies, and black holes. “We must start planning the science and the technology we’ll need for the missions we want to launch decades from now,” Günther Hasinger, ESA’s director of science, said in a statement.
ESA refreshes its slate of science missions roughly every decade or two. The current program, called Cosmic Vision, has three flagship missions that will launch before 2034: a spacecraft to study Jupiter’s moons, an x-ray telescope, and a gravitational wave detector.
The next round, dubbed Voyage 2050, kicked off in 2019 with almost 100 suggested missions or themes from teams of researchers. Those ideas that could achieve breakthrough science were whittled down into three broad categories by 75 researchers split into six committees. ESA’s Science Programme Committee approved the categories this week. Although the themes do not explicitly call for missions, some translate into fairly specific mission possibilities.