The James Webb Space Telescope has captured thousands of young stars in the Tarantula Nebula that have never been seen before. The telescope is unveiling details of the nebula's structure and composition, as well as dozens of background galaxies. The stellar nursery 30 Doradus got its nickname, the Tarantula Nebula, due to its long, dusty filaments. It is located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, and hosts the hottest and most massive stars known. The centre of this image, acquired by Webb's Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) instrument, has been hollowed out by radiation from young, massive stars (seen in bright light blue). Only the densest surrounding regions of the nebula resist erosion, forming the pillars that appear to point back towards the star cluster at the centre. The pillars house stars still in the process of forming, which will eventually leave their dusty cocoons and contribute to the formation of the nebula. © NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team
© Picture

Driven by curiosity

“Curiosity is the key to problem-solving,” wrote Galileo Galilei, Italian naturalist, mathematician, physicist, astronomer, proponent of the heliocentric worldview and discoverer of the first four moons of Jupiter. Galileo's notion is especially true of ESA's Science Programme. After all, special missions like the JUICE mission to Jupiter only come about thanks to the driving force of curiosity. JUICE is scheduled to launch in 2023 and will examine three of the Galilean moons – Ganymede, Europa and Callisto. Researchers believe that oceans are concealed beneath the surface of these icy celestial bodies. Since water is considered a requirement for life, JUICE and many other Cosmic Vision missions from ESA’s Science Programme are helping us to answer existential questions that have preoccupied inquisitive astronomers looking at the sky for thousands of years: How did the Universe come into being? How did it develop? What is it made of? How did life ultimately come about? To do this, the Cosmic Vision missions are observing and examining the celestial bodies in the Solar System and distant galaxies.

The Universe is a vast physical laboratory in which scientists can research phenomena that do not occur on Earth and are therefore only accessible through such experiments. With their cutting-edge technology, the Cosmic Vision missions go to the very limit of what is feasible and are driving the technological advancement of spaceflight in general. Many of these innovations are the work of German science and industry or originated in Germany. Some of these missions are also being launched in tandem with other spacefaring nations. The international nature of the programme consolidates Germany’s role within the global landscape of human knowledge. With its contribution of 673.2 million euros, Germany has significantly contributed to the science programme in times of energy crisis and inflation.

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Germany’s contribution to Europe’s Science Programme

A visionary programme

The scientific objectives for the new long-term programme were defined in 2021 under the title ‘Voyage 2050’. From 2035, these will take the place of the current plan, ‘Cosmic Vision 2015–2035’. This long-term plan focuses on key scientific questions:

How are planetary systems formed and under which conditions can life emerge?

Which processes are taking place in the Solar System?

Which physical laws apply in the Universe?

How did the Universe come into existence and what is it made of?

Gaia's map of the interstellar medium (ESA/Gaia/DPAC)

Four mission classes for wide-ranging objectives

These objectives will be pursued through a series of missions chosen for their scientific importance. By 2037, there are plans to launch two rapidly deployable Fast (F) missions, one Small (S) mission, five Medium (M) missions and three Large (L) missions under the programme. The L-missions are dedicated to major scientific questions with the potential to enable a significant leap forward in our scientific understanding. They are extremely complex, so long lead times are required in order to develop the necessary technology. In total, they amount to around two annual budgets. M-missions, meanwhile, investigate specific issues that are particularly valuable in terms of scientific research. As the required technology tends to be available already, these missions can be launched more quickly, which brings a degree of flexibility to the programme. The cost framework was set at around one annual budget. Cosmic Vision is supplemented by ESA participation in projects by international partners such as NASA and JAXA.

The L mission JUICE will examine Jupiter's icy moons for traces of water (ESA/Science Office)

  • LISA
  • EnVision
  • Comet Interceptor
  • Euclid
  • James Webb Space Telescope
  • Solar Orbiter
  • Gaia

Germany’s contribution to Europe’s Science Programme

JUICE in der Thermal- und Vakuum-Testkammer (ESA/SJM Photography)
PLATO in the thermal and vacuum test chamber (ESA)

Pooling resources in this way allows Europe to remain on an equal footing with its international partners. Since ESA’s inception, its Science Programme has combined the resources and skills necessary to carry out projects that are too large or too difficult for individual Member States. The necessary financing adheres to a budget (level of resources; LoR) that must not be exceeded. At the ESA Council at Ministerial Level 2022, the LoR was raised by xxx percent to xxx billion euros to compensate for the loss of purchasing power in this mandatory programme as part of the ESA convention. The member states contribute to the financing according to their economic strength, as per the gross national product key. Germany is the largest contributor to this programme, at 21.13 percent, which equates to a total contribution of around 673.2 million euros over five years. Cosmic Vision is closely linked to the national space programmes of the Member States. As a rule, ESA builds the satellites and oversees their launch and operation, which costs around 15 percent of an annual budget. The Member States finance the payloads and the scientific processing of the data obtained. As such, the programme forms the core of scientific space activities for all Member States. In Germany, data are evaluated by scientific institutes, which also contribute considerable funds to the development of the instruments. This division of labour ensures close user involvement and the scientific quality of the programme.

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