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The European Space Agency (ESA) now has a budget of $15.9 billion (€14.4 billion) — its largest in 25 years — to fund its ambitious space exploration programs that will include an unmanned Moon and Mars mission in the 2020.
The €14.4 billion will cover a period of five years, or roughly €5 billion annually, compared to the $19.4 billion NASA has to work with in 2019. There is also a 10 percent boost for ESA’s space science budget. Among the funded projects is one that will use gravitational waves to study black holes and a mission to intercept and study a comet in our solar system.
“It’s a real surprise, it’s more than I proposed, I’m very happy,” ESA Director-General Jan Wörner said.
Among major space projects now funded until 2025 are:
Lunar Gateway (officially the Lunar Orbital Platform – Gateway), the first manned space station to orbit the Moon. The NASA-led project will allow European astronauts to land on the Moon for the first time. Lunar Gateway will have a crew of four humans.
Space RIDER, which is ESA’s new reusable spaceship, will be an uncrewed orbital spaceplane aiming to provide ESA with affordable and routine access to space. Its expected maiden flight is 2022.
Space RIDER is also an end-to-end integrated space transportation system for routine access and return from low Earth orbit (LEO). It will transport payloads for an array of applications, orbit altitudes and inclinations.
The Hera mission that will protect the Earth from asteroids is set to launch in 2024. Hera will be humankind’s first probe to rendezvous with a binary asteroid system. This little understood class comprises 15 percent of all known asteroids, hence the collision danger they present.
LISA (Laser Interferometer Space Antenna) is the first gravitational wave detector in space. The LISA mission is designed for direct observation of gravitational waves, which are distortions of space-time travelling at the speed of light. LISA will consist of three satellites with the first due for launch in 2034.
Athena Black Hole Mission
The Athena (Advanced Telescope for High-ENergy Astrophysics) black hole mission is designed to “enable fundamental advances in our understanding of the basic physics of the Universe.” To be launched in 2031, the Athena spacecraft is an X-ray telescope designed to address the Cosmic Vision science theme, “The Hot and Energetic Universe.” It will map hot gas structures and determine their physical properties and search for supermassive black holes.
Mars Sample Return Mission
ESA and NASA will explore mission concepts for the international Mars Sample Return campaign between 2020 and 2030. Three launches will be needed to accomplish landing, collecting, storing and finding samples and delivering them to Earth.
Europe’s Copernicus Program
Europe’s Copernicus Program is a satellite constellation and terrestrial system aimed at providing a global, continuous, autonomous, high quality and wide-ranging Earth observation capability.