Exoplanets, plasma physics and X-ray universe are the three candidates selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) for a possible future space mission launching in the mid-2020s.
According to Alvaro Giménez, ESA’s Director of Science and Robotic Exploration, the three possibilities were selected based on their scientific value.
“The three proposals each offer the chance to tackle some of the major outstanding scientific questions about our place in the universe,” Giménez said.
“The selection of these three exciting mission concepts for study is an important step in the continuation of ESA’s long-term presence in space.”
The three missions were selected from 27 proposals submitted by the scientific community last year but only one will eventually be taken from the drawing board to reality.
One of the proposals, named the Atmospheric Remote-Sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey (Ariel), wants to focus on some 500 exoplanets orbiting close to nearby stars to determine the chemical composition of their atmospheres and analyse their overall physical conditions.
The Turbulence Heating ObserveR (Thor) would address a fundamental problem in space plasma physics concerned with the heating of plasma and the subsequent dissipation of energy. Planned to orbit the Earth, the spacecraft's studies would include the interaction of the solar wind with Earth’s magnetic field.
The final proposal is the X-ray Imaging Polarimetry Explorer (Xipe), designed to study X-ray emissions from high-energy sources such as supernovas, galaxy jets, black holes and neutron stars, to discover more about the behaviour of matter under extreme conditions.
It would be the first observatory sensitive enough to make high-resolution measurements of the polarisation of these sources, opening a new window into the high-energy Universe.
The selection is part of ESA’s fourth medium-class opportunity, which is part of the agency’s Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 plan.
Previous medium class missions selected from the programme included the Solar Orbiter, Euclid, and PLATO, now scheduled for launch in 2018, 2020 and 2024 respectively.