European Space Agency to collaborate with ISRO in space missions

While the European Space Agency (ESA)’s Gaia satellite mission is on its multi-dimensional space probe, mapping a billion stars in our Milky Way Galaxy, ESA’s Senior Scientific Advisor Mark McCaughrean reveals ESA’s plan for further collaboration with Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in space missions. On ISRO’s historic launch of 104 satellites at one go, he says it’s the precision in placing satellites and cost reduction. “Looking forward, he says, “ESA is planning 15 space missions including Bepe Colombo to Mercury in 2018 and JUICE to Jupiter in 2022.

On his first visit to India, Senior Scientific Advisor in the Directorate of Science and Robotic Exploration (responsible for communicating the scientific results from ESA’s astronomy) and noted astrophysicist Mark McCaughrean told TOI that, “ESA plans further collaboration with ISRO in various space missions. Had an informal discussion with former ISRO chairman UR Rao at Bangalore. The current ISRO chairman, AS Kiran Kumar was in a meeting in Delhi that day. Earlier, ESA had collaborated with ISRO on Chandrayaan-1 mission to Moon”. In its space mission, ESA has collaborative efforts with 22 countries including the US, Russia, China, India and Japan. It is expected to increase with the commercial launches.

Speaking on ESA’s plan for 15 space missions, he said Bepe Colombo will be the first probe to Mercury in 2018. It is a joint mission between ESA and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the Sun’s enormous gravity poses a challenge to place the spacecraft into a stable orbit around Mercury, he said.
Then, the ambitious Jupiter Icy moons Explorer (JUICE) to Jupiter in 2022. The explorer will spend at least three years making detailed observations of the giant gaseous planet Jupiter and three of its largest moons – Ganymede, Callisto and Europa. “The ice crust is much deeper and there may be forms of life in these moons,” he said. Missions to Neptune and Uranus haven’t been planned yet as it would take about 20 to 30 years to reach there, he said.

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To probe the possibility of life on other planets, humans have begun space exploration since the first human spaceflight of Russia in 1961 and now plans are afoot by NASA and SpaceX to colonise Mars to help humanity establish a permanent colony in Mars in the next 50 to 100 years. On ESA’s human space flight to Mars, he said it could be after 10 to 20 years. Now it plans robotic exploration to Mars with NASA.

On ESA’s Gaia, he said, “it’s an ambitious space mission to scan a six-dimensional map of our Milky Way galaxy of about one billion stars, which is about one percent of the Galactic stellar population. ESA is also preparing for Euclid mission to observe billions of galaxies, to map and measure dark matter and dark energy which constitutes roughly about 80 percent of the mass of the Universe. Studies on dark matter reveal that the universe today is expanding faster than in the past.

Such expansion is possible only if the universe contained enough energy to overcome gravity (the dark energy), he said.

The recent detection of gravitational waves and the proposal to set up a LIGO detector by the Indian government will help unravel the mysteries of the black holes and the universe. “ESA has a program to build a gravitational wave detector by 2030, it’s the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) mission to observe and measure gravitational waves directly by using laser interferometry,” he said.

On whether expansion of Universe would spell its doom, he said with a philosophical undertone, “we didn’t ask to be born and we have no control over nature’s way, though humans fantasize to conquer universe and fathom even its eventual dissolution five billion years from now. It is remarkable to be a piece of the universe, to look into the mirror of the Universe,” he said. When such questions go unanswered, humans found religion as a solace and inventing Gods for the fine reasons, he added.

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