Disappointed astronomers battle on
Published: 19th Apr 2012 15:37:53
The fightback has begun. As soon as it became known on Wednesday that a mission to Jupiter's icy moons was in pole position to become the next big European space venture, proponents of rival concepts were on the web campaigning to try to change the outcome.
The European Space Agency's executive has recommended to member states that Juice (JUpiter ICy moon Explorer) be declared the winner in the competition to find a billion-euro mission to launch in 2022. The news is a bitter blow to the teams behind other proposals.
It's not just the deflation of coming second. It's also the thought of all the work that went into the proposals (five years) and the prospect that none of the promised science will be realised.
But never say never.
Prof Paul Nandra is from the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany, with a visiting position at Imperial College London, UK.
He's a key mover behind Athena, the project to build the largest X-ray space telescope the world has ever seen - the absolute maximum size you could fit on the top of a mighty Ariane 5 rocket, something like 13m in length.
Athena would have the sensitivity and resolution to elucidate the extraordinary and extreme physics at the edge of a black hole like no other mission before it.
Prof Nandra heard officially on Tuesday that Juice had pipped his project for the recommendation.
On Wednesday, he set up a campaign site to get the world's astronomers to weigh in behind Athena in the hope - even at this late stage - of a different outcome to the competition.
He sent an email to a core list of Athena supporters at 15:30 CEST (14:30 BST) and in less than five hours he had 640 astronomers signed up, including more than 110 professors.
"It was obviously disappointing to hear the news, given how hard we'd worked and how strong a case we feel we made. We just felt we needed to do something about it, to keep on making that case. I recognise it's an uphill struggle but the final decision is not made until it's made, so to speak," says Prof Nandra.
But what chance really is there of a different outcome? Esa has a process. When it calls for mission ideas, it whittles down the many brilliant proposals it receives on the advice of specialist scientific panels.
The different disciplines review the best concepts in their areas of expertise, before pushing their thoughts up to a super panel (the Space Science Advisory Committee) to pick the most meritorious suggestion from across the board.
Esa's executive reviews the decision to check the chosen concept:
If those conditions are met, it then passes its recommendation on to member states for the final say.
The decision-making body (the Science Programme Committee), due to meet on 2 May, is sovereign and can decide what it believes is best. It could go against the painstaking process that has taken five years to produce a result, but no-one I've spoken to really expects that to happen.
The setback for Athena is not just a setback for X-ray astronomy; it's a setback for the wider science.
The funding agencies plan a suite of next-generation facilities to examine the outstanding questions in astronomy across the electromagnetic spectrum, with most becoming operational in the 2020 timeframe:
X-rays will be the glaring omission.
"Athena would give us unique information about the Universe that you can't acquire any other way. While everyone is somewhat parochial in advocating their own wavelength range, the idea that you would be missing something entirely really resonates with community. I think that's why we've got so many people signing up to support us from across astrophysics," says Prof Nandra.
If Juice is indeed selected as Europe's next big thing, it should launch in 2022. The great distance to the gas giant means it will not arrive at the Jovian System until 2030.
And here's the splendid irony. The Athena team will re-enter its proposal in the follow-on Esa competition which is expected to call for ideas next year. The winner would probably get a launch slot in 2028. So, even if Prof Nandra and colleagues cannot get the SPC to do an about-turn, there's still a possibility their dream will realise its science before we get pictures of those icy moons from Juice.
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Harvard CitationBBC News, 2012. Disappointed astronomers battle on [Online] (Updated 19th Apr 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1423403/Disappointed-astronomers-battle-on [Accessed 12th Mar 2014]
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With the doors to its brand new £1million training centre officially open, one of the UK's leading apprentice training providers, Bristol based S&B Automotive Academy, is showcasing its world-class facilities by launching a series of foreign student exchanges for the first time in its 41-year history. To get a flavour of what life is like as an apprentice in the UK, the Academy hosted 16 apprentice engineers and bus drivers from the G9 Automotive College in Hamburg, Germany, as part of a Europe-wide vocational training initiative called the ‘Leonardo Programme’ with support from the European Social Fund. In a reciprocal arrangement, S&B will be sending nine apprentices to Germany during February 2012 so that they can get an appreciation of life in the automotive industry on the Continent. A further three German exchange groups are being planned for next year. Designed to assist the development of vocational skills and training across Europe, including work placements for trainees, the Leonardo Programme has a budget of €1.75bn, which is helping to encourage UK organisations to work with their counterparts abroad. In what is expected to be another challenging year for employers in the UK automotive sector, S&B’s Chief Executive, Jon Winter, claims that the exchange initiative will bring many benefits to the Academy and its apprentices: “In a world of global automotive brands, it’s important for our learners to understand the international context of the industry they have chosen to make their career. This new exchange programme will enable apprentices and Academy staff alike to achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the automotive arena in Europe. With the Academy’s influence also extending to the USA and Asia, there’s every possibility that this initiative could move further afield in the future.” Continued Winter: “The need for skilled technicians across the world is on the increase and we actively encourage our apprentices to look at broader horizons during their training. Many of them have already learned the phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Gelehrtheit’, quite simply, ‘Advancement through learning.” In the 2010/11 academic year, S&B doubled the number of successful Apprenticeships over the previous year with some 350 apprentices graduating from the Academy. At the same time, achievement levels reached an all-time high with an overall success rate of 85%. For those learners on the Advanced Apprenticeship three-year programme, success rates were even higher, at over 98%. PHOTO CAPTION: As part of their exchange visit, S&B Automotive Academy arranged for the German apprentices to visit Hampshire bus operator, Bluestar, at its Barton Park depot. The students are pictured with S&B’s Andy West (3rd right) and Steve Prewett, Bluestar’s Area Engineering Manager (2nd right). Ends http://www.sandbaa.com