Trinity’s Peter Gallagher joins ESA science committee for future space missions

10 Mar 2017

Prof Peter Gallagher has joined the ESA SSAC. Image: Paul Sharp/SharpPix

Astrophysicist Peter Gallagher has been named as one of the latest additions to the ESA’s prestigious science advisory committee.

Prof Peter Gallagher of Trinity College Dublin has been leading many important Irish astronomical endeavours over the past few years, but a new role with the European Space Agency (ESA) will see him guide space exploration policy for all of Europe for the next two years.

Joining 11 other prominent astronomers and astrophysicists from across the ESA member states, Gallagher will be a part of the Space Science Advisory Committee (SSAC).

The SSAC is used within the ESA to guide the agency’s scientific policies, make recommendations for the scientific community, and lay the foundations for future missions based on recommendations and new discoveries.

Much of these decisions will fall under the ESA’s current strategy ‘Cosmic Vision 2015-2025’, designed to address four main questions that are high on the agenda of researchers across the world.

These include the conditions for planet formation and emergence of life, the solar system, the fundamental physical laws of the universe, and the formation of our universe.

Despite being set for a two-year term, Gallagher told that the SSAC determines whether a mission – which will likely be at least a decade in the making – will make sense both scientifically and financially.

“You want to make sure when you are selecting these [missions] and spending huge amounts of money, that you really do a good job in making sure that can be done and that the technology is mature enough,” Gallagher said.

He added that while the SSAC typically meets four times a year, this year will likely see as many as 10 meetings, as it is in the process of organising a number of medium-sized missions for the agency.

The Irish connection

“The ESA offers unique opportunities for Irish scientists and companies to push the limits of Irish research and innovation, and I’m delighted to now play a role in shaping the future of ESA’s space exploration programme.”

One of the missions that he will be directly involved with is the Solar Orbiter spacecraft, which is expected to launch towards Mercury in 2019.

After its three-year journey, the craft will enter Mercury’s orbit, where it will study the sun and the inner solar system in great detail.

“Solar Orbiter will enable us to study the sun in greater detail than ever before and to better understand solar activity and its effects on Earth,” Gallagher said.

“Due to the huge temperatures close to the sun, the spacecraft is protected by a heat shield, which has been coated by an innovative Irish company called EnBio.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic