What is the purpose of a Matrix for Ground-based Facilities and Space Missions?
The goal of this task, led by IWF/OEAW, and supported by UCL, is to provide the user community with interactive links
to ground-based instrumentation that is available to European planetary scientists , and which has the capability of
supporting and complementing space missions. This task will not limit itself just to the major observatories, but will
also include medium- and small-size telescopes and instruments that can fulfill niche requirements for the community.
Planetary space missions cost anything from a few hundred million dollars to several billion dollars, with the largest missions
taking decades to prepare. Due to the sizes of the projects, they involve several large international teams of scientists working
on a variety of instruments. For example the Cassini Mission, which took 25 years from its inception to arrival at Saturn in 2004,
has 12 instruments all involved in taking data regarding the planet, its magnetosphere, rings and moons. The budget for the whole
mission is estimated to be well in excess of $3 billion and rising every day, as scientists are employed in directing the spacecraft
and analysing the information returned. Thus, it is vital that the scientific return obtained from this large investment of money,
time and effort is maximised.
Observations from the ground are much cheaper to make in comparison to the space missions and can
back up spacecraft measurements: a nights observation on the largest telescopes costs something in the order of $20,000. Also not
every type of instrument can be own as some are too heavy and others lose out to mission-decided priorities. This can be overcome
though as ground based telescopes may have the capabilities to fill the gaps in the data collection, while complementing what the
spacecraft can achieve. For example, there is no high-spectral-resolution infrared spectrometer on Cassini capable of measuring the
Saturns wind systems. But such instruments are available on NASAs Infrared Telescope Facility on Mauna Kea, Hawaii and elsewhere. In
the USA, the American planetary science community has a long and productive history of supporting their space missions with
ground-based observations. Europe is much less organised in this respect. Thus, the aim of Europlanet is to bridge this gap with
European planetary science.
This website exists to aid in the organisation of collaborative efforts between astronomers world-wide.
It provides a database of current and proposed space missions and ground-based facilities that are designed for Planetary Science.