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Content archived on 2024-06-18

European Planetology Network Research Infrastructure

Final Report Summary - EUROPLANET RI (European Planetology Network Research Infrastructure)

Executive Summary:
Europlanet RI has been Europe’s first major research project uniting planetary scientists from East to West and North to South across Europe. With participants from 27 institutes representing 16 countries – including Russia – as project partners, and hundreds of supporters attending its annual European Planetary Science Congress from more than 40 countries, Europlanet RI has genuinely put European planetary science on the map. We set out on this ambitious project, with its suite of four networking activities (NAs), three trans-national access (TNAs) activities, and four joint research activities (JRAs), and its Integrated Data and Information Service, with great hopes for the €6 million project. Those hopes have been realised and – in many instances – surpassed.
Project Context and Objectives:
The objective of Europlanet RI is to bring together Europe's leading planetary researchers and laboratories to develop a coherent, focused, collaborative planetary science research programme. This 6 ME project brings together 27 institutes to create a pan-European coordinated research infrastructure in planetary sciences, with the ambition of enabling Europe to emerge as a key player in this domain and develop a general spirit of cooperation and collaboration throughout the European planetary science community. The project is organized around three types of activities:
• TransNational Access (TNA) activities, offering to the European planetary science community access to a wide range of facilities related to field site analogues (TNA1), laboratory apparatus (TNA2) and analytical facilities (TNA3). The IDIS Service provides on-line access to planetary science data and software tools.
• Joint Research Activities (JRA) to contribute to develop the infrastructure still further. This comprises (1) the development of planetary models and ephemerides for the preparation of or support to space missions (2) the exploration and the characterisation of new field sites as analogues for planetary surfaces, (3) the development and the opening to the community of new state-of-the-art laboratory facilities, (4) the development of interconnected modelling and multi-disciplinary data analysis services in simulation and modelling, and (5) the evolution of IDIS towards a prototype of Virtual Planetary Observatory.
• Networking Activities (NA), to foster cooperation in the field of planetary science and publicize the opportunities and results arising from the project. An annual meeting (EPSC), now attended by the vast majority of Europe's planetary scientists, is organized. A large effort is also dedicated to outreach activities with the formation of a pan -European media centre, with contacts and acting people in all European countries.

Project Results:
A key part of the motivation for Europlanet RI was the need to bring together European planetary scientists in a way that would allow them to create more than the sum of their parts, to have more impact than their simple numerical strength would allow for, and to ensure that as space nations – developed and developing – came to look for mission partnership and science leadership, Europe was the place to look. Europlanet RI set out to achieve this at a time when there was a lacuna in planetary space missions as older ones - Cassini, Mars Express and Venus Express, were due to be ending, and newer ones such as Rosetta and ExoMars, and the new European Space Agency Jupiter mission JUICE, are still to deliver their data.
The development of EU planetary science must be viewed in the context of a rapidly changing international environment. Alongside the traditional planetary science and space “powers”, China and India have announced, and are enacting, ambitious planetary science and space programmes.

So it is vital that Europe – with its large knowledge and skills base – remains at the forefront of the planetary science field. Central to this aim is the task of overcoming the current fragmentation of the EU planetary science community. Europlanet RI has accomplished it in two ways:
it has consolidated the integration of the planetary science community which started with Europlanet’s FP6 Coordination Action;
it has integrated a major distributed European infrastructure to be shared, fed and expanded by all planetary scientists.
Each of Europlanet’s 12 workpackages, plus its Management have striven to ensure these goals have been met.

Much of the work of pulling the European planetary science community together has been carried out through its four Networking Activities (NAs). NA1 and NA2 have had their key focus on providing the framework through which the scientific return on Europe’s investment can be maximised.
NA1 workshops – 25 during the project’s four-year duration - brought together ground-based observational astronomers in support of space missions. The Austrian Academy of Sciences at Graz hosted more than 70 attendees from 14 countries at the 7th International Workshop on Planetary, Solar and Heliospheric Radio Emissions (2010). Plans to support ESA’s Rosetta Mission to orbit and land on Comet Churyumov Gersimenko were discussed at University College London (2012). NA1 has also produced an interactive matrix, enabling planetary scientists to link space mission requirements to ground-based facilities that can help deliver them. Through NA2, the International Space Science Institute (Bern) partnered with the Finnish Meteorological Institute and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences to provide opportunities for key science issues to be discussed and to create a series of key reference and research books. Other workshops were held to support Europlanet’s IDIS facility. NA2 also enabled Europlanet personnel to be exchanged between institutes in order to develop the infrastructure necessary to put European planetary science on a firm footing.

Whilst NAs 1 and 2 concentrated on networking for the scientific community, NA3 and NA4 turned Europlanet outward to the wider public, to industry and to policy makers. NA4’s remit for outreach resulted in the development of a network of press contacts and an innovative series of public activities. It inaugurated a prestigious prize for European planetary science outreach activities, and funding for those with new and dynamic ideas for furthering public interest in the area. Europlanet’s key dissemination platform – the European Planetary Science Congress – organised through NA4 – had a dual purpose. It brought European planetary scientists in their hundreds together with their international peers in an exciting exchange of scientific results and ideas. Its press and outreach activity brought that excitement to European citizens. And the Technology Foresight workshops ensured that the aims and objectives of the community could be made known to those responsible for creating the hardware vital for planetary missions to succeed.

Joint Research Activities to develop new infrastructures for planetary science carried out under Europlanet RI have produced new tools for the community on a number of fronts. JRA1 provided data, tools, and essential know-how in the following areas which are fundamental for the preparation of space missions, their operation and the science data analysis. These included maps of solar system bodies such as Mars and the moons of Saturn, tools to calculate the dynamics of solar system bodies, and the development of new tracking technologies. JRA1 also trained and supported amateur astronomers, particular in meteor observations. The characterization of two new field extreme sites and its validations or not as Earth Analogues was the focus of the Europlanet JRA2 activity. Extreme ecosystems on Earth with characteristics resembling those found in others planetary bodies are defined as “Earth Analogues” and are attracting considerable interest due to the new space missions to characterize planetary bodies as Mars and Jupiter´s moons Europa and Ganymede. The JRA2 activity organised several field campaigns to the natural field sites of Chott El Jerid (Tunisia) and Popigai crater (Russia), part of its mission to identify further facilities that could be opened to trans-national access.
Computer modelling and analysis are essential for modern planetary science. So JRA3 set out to build an interactive catalogues of models and tools available through the European community, some of which could be run online or on demand, others by arrangement with the relevant programmers. Some of these were adapted to run on the European high performance facilities located at CINECA in Bologna, Italy. Modelling and analysis are one side of the coin. On the other, is the need to bring together datasets from a variety of space missions and model outputs to develop a holistic view of the Solar System and its component parts. So JRA4 worked to develop data protocols and tools to develop a Virtual Observatory approach to doing planetary science.
Whilst the JRAs worked to develop new infrastructure for future European planetary research, Trans-National Access (TNA) facilities and Service Activities (SA) provided accessibility of key facilities. Europlanet’s central Integrated and Distributed Information Service SA succeeded in its commitments to make available to the community new datasets and services, and to form the basis for a European Planetary Virtual Observatory. All the thematic Nodes into which the SA had been structured became, in their scientific field, a reference portal for the interested community, offering a wide choice of resources that would not have been available without the Europlanet project. All the JRA activities fed into the further development of IDIS, with JRA4 playing a central role in the technological development of the SA itself.
Potential Impact:
One of the main results of the project is to definitely develop a culture of cooperation across the various domains of planetary science and between different European national communities. The TransNational Access Activity (TNA) has created a habit amongst EU scientists to use facilities that are not located in their country for the best scientific return. The IDIS Service, now close to be a true Virtual Observatory, provides on-line transnational access to science data and software tools to the widest scientific community. Finally, with the development of innovative outreach tools, including the distributed media centre, the European citizen now benefit from an easier and more complete access to the most recent scientific results in planetary sciences. This is a key for promoting Science in general in Europe.
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