September 14, 2018

A space ambition for France - CNES and French scientists playing an instrumental role in international space exploration missions

Friday 14 September, CNES President Jean-Yves Le Gall held a press conference at the agency’s Head Office in Paris Les Halles to set out the key challenges that will face the space exploration missions marking the end of this year, as well as future exploration missions to be pursued through ESA programmes and international partnership efforts. He was accompanied at the briefing by scientists working on the Hayabusa2/MASCOT, BepiColombo and InSight mission teams.

Hayabusa2/MASCOT is a sample return mission to asteroid Ryugu led by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The mission’s French-German MASCOT lander, developed and built by the German space agency DLR in close collaboration with CNES, will be landing on Ryugu on 3 October. The lander’s scientific instruments were developed by DLR, the IAS space astrophysics institute and Braunschweig University of Technology (TUB). MASCOT and its experiments are being operated and controlled by DLR and CNES, in constant communication with JAXA.

BepiColombo is a mission to Mercury scheduled to launch on 19 October from the Guiana Space Centre. The mission’s two orbiters, MPO (Mercury Planetary Orbiter) and MMO (Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter), for which CNES oversaw the French instrument contribution, will reach orbit around Mercury in 2025. They will map the entire surface of the planet, study its inner composition and structure and analyse its magnetic field and magnetosphere to provide new insights into the formation and evolution of ‘inner’ planets—planets orbiting close to their star—like our Earth.

InSight-SEIS is a geophysical mission of NASA’s Discovery Program, launched last May. This lander will touch down on the surface of Mars on 26 November to study its deep interior and gain new understanding of how rocky planets in the solar system formed. This mission is carrying the French SEIS seismometer (Seismic Experiment for Interior Structures), whose development was overseen by CNES, to measure Mars’ tectonic activity and learn more about its structure, for example the size of its core and the thickness of its mantle.

CNES’s President then turned his attention to the agency’s future course for space exploration. He pointed to ESA’s ExoMars 2020 mission set to acquire measurements of the planet’s environment from its surface for a whole Martian year or sol (687 Earth days). Carrying nine science instruments designed to study the soil and subsoil, it will also be able to drill down to a depth of two metres where any organic materials are preserved from the radiation and oxidizers that would otherwise destroy them. Jean-Yves Le Gall also underlined the fundamental importance of international partnership missions such as Mars 2020 with NASA, which will be operating SuperCam, one of the mission’s seven instruments. SuperCam is an enhanced version of ChemCam, the instrument operating on the Curiosity rover on Mars since 2012. Besides enabling remote analysis of Martian rocks, SuperCam will also be capable of detecting organic molecules that could indicate possible traces of life from the planet’s ancient past.

Exploration missions to the Sun were also on the agenda at today’s briefing. After a successful launch, Parker Solar Probe is now on its way to explore the solar corona at close quarters and will be the first spacecraft ever to penetrate our star’s outer atmosphere when it arrives in 2024. France is the only European nation supplying instruments for this U.S. mission. Jean-Yves Le Gall also talked about the Solar Orbiter mission developed by ESA and NASA, scheduled to launch in 2020 to study the Sun’s heliosphere and observe it in unprecedented detail in an attempt to unmask the secrets of the solar wind.

At today’s press conference, Jean-Yves Le Gall commented: “This year we have seen, in Europe and especially in France, great public enthusiasm for the benefits of space, which continues to grow every year. At the end of the year we can look forward to seeing some historic accomplishments marking the culmination of the unrelenting efforts of teams at CNES, French research laboratories and our international partners. The Hayabusa2/MASCOT, BepiColombo and InSight-SEIS missions are poised to yield a wealth of priceless science data and are attracting unprecedented interest from the public. As such, they are clearly integral to France’s space ambitions.”

For media

Mascot :
BepiColombo :
InSight :

Pascale Bresson    Press Officer    Tel: +33 (0)1 44 76 75 39
Raphaël Sart    Press Officer    Tel: +33 (0)1 44 76 74 51
Sébastien Martignac    Press Officer    Tel. +33 (0)1 44 76 78 35