European Space Sciences Committee (ESSC)

ESSC member Heiko Balzter recognised for outstanding achievements

University of Leicester Professor and ESSC member Heiko Balzter has been honoured for his outstanding and distinctive achievements. Professor Balzter, of the Department of Geography, is this year's recipient of the Cuthbert Peek Award from the Royal Geographical Society. The award is made 'for advancing geographical knowledge of human impact through earth observation.'


Chair hand-over

Hand-over of chairmanship took place at the Köln plenary meeting on 17-18 November 2014.



Professor Athena Coustenis (left in picture on the left) was handed the Chair from Professor Jean-Pierre Swings (right in picture), who had been chairing the ESSC for two terms since May 2007.

TECHBREAK report published

The final report from the ESF-ESF Forward Look on Technological Breakthroughs for Scientific Progress (TECHBREAK) has just been published.


ESSC member Roberto Battiston is appointed President of ASI

Our colleague Roberto Battiston, Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Trento and researcher at INFN, has just recently been appointed as the new President of the Italian Space Agency by the Italian Minister for Education, University and Research.

The ESSC has benefited in the past 2 years from Roberto's broad expertise and large international network. We wish him luck in his new and challenging endeavour and are confident that strong and constructive interactions will continue to develop between ESSC and ASI in the wake of Roberto Battiston's nomination.


Ad memoriam Colin Pillinger

Renowned space scientist Colin Pillinger dies at 70. Prof Colin Pillinger, who had been the driving force behind Britain's Mars lander Beagle 2, suffered a brain haemorrhage at his home in Cambridge and died in hospital on Wednesday.

Prof Monica Grady, a planetary scientist at the Open University and former ESSC member, was one of Pillinger's PhD students and worked with him throughout her career. She told The Guardian: "He was a determined and controversial figure. I crossed swords with him more than once in the 35 years I have known him. But he was enthusiastic, inspirational and never-failing in his drive to promote planetary sciences and the science that would come from missions to the moon and Mars. He was one of the most influential people in my life."

Image credit: ESA - Prof Colin Pillinger and the Beagle -2 probe

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Chair Elect Prof Athena Coustenis endorsed by ESF Governing Council

The ESF Governing Council meeting in Munich on 14-15 April 2014 endorsed the nomination of Prof Athena Coustenis (Meudon Observatory) as the upcoming Chairperson of the European Space Sciences Committee (ESSC), effective November 2014.

Prof Coustenis is Director of Research with the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) of France, working at Paris Observatory in Meudon. Her specialty is Planetology (exploration and study of the Solar System from ground-based and space observations), with extensive experience in that domain, both in Europe and in the US. Her astrophysicist research is devoted to the investigation of planetary atmospheres and surfaces, with emphasis on icy moons like Titan and Enceladus, Saturn's satellites, and Jupiter's Ganymede and Europa, objects with high astrobiological potential.

Prof Coustenis also works on the characterisation of exoplanetary atmospheres. In the recent years she has been leading efforts towards the definition and contributing to the selection of future space missions. She has shown exceptional public leadership in her previous role as the chair of the Solar System and Exploration Working Group within ESA.

Athena Coustenis visits NSSC

On April 11, 2014, Athena Coustenis, the ESSC-ESF Chair Elect visited China's National Space Science Center (NSSC) to seek potential collaborations with the Chinese space science community. Prof. WU Ji, Director General of NSSC, introduced the history of Chinese space science and the current as well as the planed space science missions, including the Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope (HXMT), Quantum Experiments at Space Scale (QUESS), Dark Matter Particle Explorer (DAMPE), Recoverable Satellite for Microgravity and Space Life Sciences (SJ-10), Magnetosphere-Ionosphere-Thermosphere Coupling Exploration (MIT), Solar Polar Orbit Radio Telescope (SPORT), X-ray Timing and Polarization mission (XTP), Space Millimeter VLBI Array, Einstein-Probe (EP), Search for Terrestrial Exo-Planets (STEP), Advanced Space-borne Solar Observatory (ASO-S) and Water Cycle Observation Mission (WCOM). "International cooperation is fundamental in the Chinese space science missions", Prof. WU emphasized. Prof. Coustenis made an introduction of the current structure, the work mechanism, the mission of the ESSC as well as its strategic plans. Prof. Coustenis expressed her wish to find the common interests with NSSC, which promises possible cooperation opportunity in the future. Both parties exchanged opinions on the roadmap study, mission selection procedures and the possibility to share the expertise.

Space Strategic Research Clusters in Horizon 2020

ESSC-ESF Recommendations  

This document details the outcome of the deliberations that took place at the ESSC 44th and 45th plenary meetings in 2012 and 2013. The broader European space sciences community was consulted during the process and significant input was provided to the ESSC through two online surveys that took place during the first half of 2013. The differet sections outline i) a description of the surveys; ii) the ESSC recommendations for the space SRCs of H2020 and iii) certain critical overarching elements to be considered.

New EC-FP7 SPACE contracts

The AstRoMap project has the goal to prepare a White Book about the astrobiology missions in the next 20 years. The consortium is composed of players at European level, namely: the Belgian User Support and Operations Centre, the Spanish Centro de Astrobiologia, the German Space Agency, the new UK centre for Astrobiology, the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics, and the European Astrobiology Network Association. This Coordination Action has started on 14 October 2012 in Stockholm and will last 3 years.

The MEGAHIT  project, aimed at establishing a European programmatic roadmap for the development of breakthrough propulsion systems and advanced power sources for long-duration exploration missions, is a Coordination Action that will run between March 2013 and May 2014. Partners are: NNL, CNES, DLR, KeRC, TAS-I.

The MASE project overall aim in this project is to implement a step change in our understanding of Martian habitability and our ability to detect organisms that might have made use of habitable environments using organisms from analogue environments on the Earth.The project will be launched in 2014 and will last 4 years



This foresight activity takes place within the context of an ESF ‘Forward Look’ that was initiated as a request from ESA. The ESF supports this foresight instrument to develop medium to long-term views and analyses of future research developments with the aim of defining research agendas at national and European level. Recent TECHBREAK (Technology breakthroughs for scientific progress) events were a series of thematic workshops on Key Enabling Technologies, that followed on the launch conference held in Brussels, on 29-30 November 2010. The intended outcomes are to identify technology areas of use to the space sector and the granularity level at which they can be useful.

Planetary Protection

The European Space Agency (ESA) has asked ESF and its space sciences committee ESSC to define an acceptable risk level for the possibility of introducing a potential Martian life form into the terrestrial biosphere in the context of a Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission (backward contamination). After considering the upcoming technology development and mission study activities for an international MSR mission, the fact that the acceptable risk requirement will drive some of the fail-safe approaches for sample containment, and the current status of the relevant requirement, the Planetary Protection Working Group (PPWG) of ESA recommended in their 12th meeting in April 2010 to request advice from the ESF. This recommendation has been coordinated with the NASA Planetary Protection Officer to avoid duplication of efforts on the part of the US National Research Council Space Studies Board. A framework agreement was thus set up between ESA and ESF and this activity formally started in February 2011. It ended in May 2012.