The European Space agency (ESA) and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS/JAXA) have announced their decision to no longer consider the infrared space observatory, SPICA, as a candidate for the upcoming selection as ESA's 5th medium-class mission in its Cosmic Vision Programme (M5).
SPICA, a mission still in its study phase, would have been, if selected, a joint European - Japanese program. An ambitious technological concept featuring a cryogenically cooled telescope, SPICA aimed to greatly improve on the sensitivity of previous infrared space observatories, and to study a wide range of scientific topics, such as the formation of stars, planets and galaxies.
SPICA was one of three candidate missions for the selection of the 5th medium-sized mission (M5) of ESA's current long-term planning framework of space science missions. Originally a Japanese project, the mission evolved to become an ESA/JAXA partnership that involves numerous international partners contributing aspects of the scientific instrument payload. The selection of the M5 mission is proceeding as planned for mid-2021.
In a meeting, ESA and ISAS/JAXA discussed the outcome of both agencies' respective assessments of the mission. On 7 October, both agencies signed a letter to the SPICA scientific team jointly with the Netherlands Institute for Space Research (SRON), that was leading the provision of the payload in Europe, acknowledging the decision that both ESA and ISAS/JAXA no longer consider SPICA as a candidate for the ESA M5 selection.
"Both ESA and ISAS/JAXA consider this a very unfortunate development, that however is made unavoidable by the strict financial constraints faced by both agencies.", Günther Hasinger, ESA Director of Science, said.
"The mission's configuration is the result of the hard work and dedication by the scientific and engineering teams from all the mission's partners", said Hitoshi Kuninaka, Director General of ISAS/JAXA.
"Many have dedicated years of their lives to this mission study, a commitment that both our agencies very much understand and value, and that we are deeply grateful for. Unfortunately, the mission's high ambitions also make it technologically demanding, with a correspondingly high cost."