Future Missions

The CPS is actively involved in developing new mission ideas and working on missions in their planning and preparation phases.

The Exoplanet Characterisation Observatory, EChO, is one of the ESA M3 mission candidates currently assessed for an expected launch in 2022. 

EChO. Credit: Astrium

EChO will be the first dedicated mission to investigate the physics and chemistry of Exoplanetary Atmospheres. It will place our Solar System in context and by addressing the suitability of planets for life will allow us to address some of the fundamental questions of the Cosmic Visions programme:

  • What are the conditions for planet formation and the emergence of life?
  • Are systems like our Solar System rare or very common? How does the Solar System work?

Further information

EChO homepage at ESA

PanCam prototype on ExoMars rover. Credit: ESA/CNES

ExoMars is a joint ESA-NASA mission and the first in ESA's Auroral programme of missions to explore Mars.

Science objectives

Exomars aims to characterise the biological environment of Mars in preapration for robotic and eventually human exploration. MSSL are leading the PanCam camera team, together with input from Birkbeck CPS members. The PanCam will provide multi-wavelength images of the Martian surface to address geological and atmospheric science goals.

Further information

ExoMars homepage at ESA

ESA's next "large class" (L-class) mission will be a mission called JUICE (Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer) - formerly known as the Europa Jupiter System Mission (EJSM)/Laplace - to study the giant planet Jupiter, its planetary system and magnetosphere, and particularly its moon Ganymede.

Europa Jupiter System Mission. Credit: ESA/NASA/M. Carroll

Since 2007 scientists across Europe and beyond have been studying missions that have been in competition for the European Space Agency's (ESA) next "large-class" mission to be launched around 2022. On 2 May 2012 the ESA Space Program Committee selected JUICE from a set of three competing mission concepts which had been rigorously studied and investigated for more than five years.

JUICE will launch in 2022 and will arrive in the jovian system in 2030, finally entering orbit around Ganymede, the largest moon in the solar system, in 2032. The moons Europa, Callisto and Ganymede are thought to host internal oceans underneath an icy crust and the mission will study these moons as potential habitats for life. JUICE will also continuously observe Jupiter's atmosphere and magnetosphere, and how the moons interact with Jupiter itself.

Prof. Andrew Coates has been involved in the definition of the mission and Dr. Chris Arridge has participated in the magnetospheres working group helping define the magnetospheric science that JUICE will address. Prof. Coates is also leading an international consortium involved in the development of a proposed instrument suite for JUICE.

Further information


Uranus is the seventh planet from the Sun, the third largest and fourth most massive planet in the solar system. Uranus is an ice giant planet named after the Greek god Uranus. Sir William Herschel announced the discovery of Uranus on 13 March 1781. Uranus has a set of 27 natural satellites (moons), a system of rings, a highly asymmetric magnetic field, and orbits the Sun on its side with its poles pointing at the Sun during some parts of the uranian year. The names of the uranian natural satellites are taken from characters in the works of William Shakespeare (e.g., Titania, Oberon and Mab) and Alexander Pope (e.g., Ariel and Umbriel). The uranian system has only been visited once by a spacecraft, that was NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft on 24 January 1986.

What is Uranus Pathfinder?

Uranus Pathfinder. Credit: MSSL

Uranus Pathfinder was a mission concept that was submitted to the European Space Agency's M3 call for medium class missions. Unfortunately it was not successful despite being highly rated.

The Uranus Pathfinder concept was for an orbiter of Uranus, launching in 2021 and arriving at Uranus in the 2037 time frame. The mission would perform the first detailed study of an ice giant planetary system which would fill the gaps in our understanding of the formation of the solar system, and the physical processes in the interiors and atmospheres of ice giants.

The Uranus Pathfinder M3 mission proposal was also written up for publication and appears in a special issue of the Experimental Astronomy journal.

Why an expensive space mission to Uranus?

All the major components of the solar system are being actively explored in situ by spacecraft apart from the ice giant planets Uranus and Neptune. Yet the ice giants are an important and essentially unknown part of the solar system, they have a unique place in planet formation, and are crucial in understanding exoplanetary systems

Who are the Team?

The Uranus Pathfinder project is led by Dr. Chris Arridge from the Mullard Space Science Laboratory in the UK and the whole project involves over 120 scientists from:

  • Argentina
  • Belgium
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Israel
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • United Kingdom
  • United States of America

The Future of Ice Giant Exploration

The future of Ice Giant exploration is good. The NRC Planetary Decadal Survey 2013-2023 in the United States said that a Uranus mission offers “...outstanding scientific potential and a projected cost that is well matched to its anticipated science return..." and should be initiated in the next decade. There is a large European ice giant community, led by the Uranus Pathfinder consortium, to take advantage of such a Uranus flagship mission.

In Europe we are looking towards future mission opportunities within ESA and are also planning a future European Uranus workshop.

Page last modified on 09 jul 12 18:38 by Joanna N Fabbri