Explain ESA’s last-minute ditching of new space telescope

Imperial College London, UK.

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The Open University, UK.

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SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research, the Netherlands.

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The European Space Agency (ESA) has cancelled its proposed Space Infrared Telescope for Cosmology and Astrophysics (SPICA; just months before the final mission-selection review. The decision — made by the executive on the grounds of undisclosed costs, not by the Science Programme Committee on the basis of peer review — has left many in the astronomy community with no confidence in the decision-making processes at the agency’s highest levels (see public letter to ESA’s director of science signed by almost 300 scientists, at

ESA member states and collaborating countries have invested heavily in developing SPICA and expected a fair, transparent process for all competing projects. This cancellation was imposed without negotiation or communication with the SPICA team, and no details were given about the underlying costings. Why these suddenly became a problem after the completion of several comprehensive reviews is a mystery. The project team was given no opportunity to find a solution.

Without transparency and accountability in the making of such decisions, nothing will prevent other ESA projects from experiencing a similar fate.

Nature 587, 548 (2020)

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