Skip to main content

Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - EPN-2024-RI (Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure)

Reporting period: 2020-02-01 to 2021-07-31

The Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure (RI) addresses the key scientific and technological challenges facing modern planetary science. Europe’s planetary exploration programme has grown in international prominence in recent years, driven by ambitious European Space Agency (ESA) missions to explore planetary systems. To maintain a world-leading role, European planetary science requires cutting-edge facilities and services to maximise scientific return on investment, and a diverse, multi-disciplinary and industrially linked community. Europlanet 2024 RI builds on the foundations of highly successful past projects to integrate a large, active planetary science community. The distributed infrastructure that Europlanet has created is the largest, most diverse collection of field sites and facilities to simulate and analyse planetary environments of its kind in the world today. With over 50 beneficiaries, from both industry and academic sectors, Europlanet 2024 RI represents a step-change in ambition for planetary science worldwide. Ultimately, Europlanet 2024 RI aims for a sustainable future within the structure of the Europlanet Society.
Since February 2020, Europlanet 2024 RI programmes of Transnational Access (TA), Virtual Access (VA), Joint Research Activities (JRA) and Networking Activities (NA) have all delivered services to the community and made steps to reach new users. Travel restrictions due to Covid-19 have caused disruption to planned workshops and visits to laboratory facilities and field sites. However, virtual models of engagement have been evaluated, piloted and implemented by the project, in some cases enabling new audiences around the world to be reached.

Europlanet 2024 RI’s TA programme supports travel and local accommodation costs for researchers to visit a facility, and virtual visits to laboratories are now also undertaken. Six of the TA facilities are being upgraded or are having staff trained as part of the JRA programme, and the first of these projects has been completed. At the end of the first Reporting Period (RP1), TA facilities offered by Europlanet 2024 RI include six field sites spread over four continents and over 40 state-of-the-art laboratory facilities. In the first two TA calls, 181 applications were submitted, with 117 visits approved for funding. Of these, seven have taken place in person, eight have been carried out fully remotely, and there has been a hybrid visit.

The SPIDER (Sun Planet Interactions Digital Environment on Request) Virtual Access (VA) activity provides access to six services for modelling planetary environments and solar wind interactions through a run on request infrastructure and associated databases. During RP1, services and databases to support studies of Mercury’s exosphere and the plasma environments at Venus and Mars have been prototyped and made operational. Predictions of the solar wind parameters propagated to BepiColombo, Solar Orbiter and the Parker Solar Probe have been added to services and tools accessed through SPIDER.

VESPA (Virtual European Solar and Planetary Access) is a network of interoperable data services covering all fields of Solar System sciences. It is a mature project and already connects 57 services. During RP1, existing services have been updated and nine additional services have been published. The impact of VESPA has been significantly extended through collaborations with data infrastructures and international consortia.

Information and data access components for the GMAP geological mapping service have been set up, for both internal and external user communities. New collaborations have been established around the world and a community of GMAP VA mappers initiated through a Planetary Mapping Winter School.

The Machine Learning (ML) JRA has developed seven science cases and launched a public access portal for the services. A public GitHub has also been set up, where codes and scripts are available for the scientific community.

The Coordination of Ground-based Observations Networking Activity has opened up small telescope facilities to professional and amateur observers. Launched in June 2020, the Europlanet Telescope Network currently links 16 facilities located around the globe, 14 of which can be operated remotely.

Networking Activities have targeted key audiences, including researchers in under-represented states, early careers, the media, industrial partners, policymakers and educators to foster co-operation and extend the user base of Europlanet 2024 RI. A strategy for global collaboration has been published and a database of industry linked to planetary science has also been developed. A training and education portal has been launched, giving details of early career job and PhD opportunities, and providing a mentoring service.

Results from Europlanet 2024 RI have been successfully disseminated through the Europlanet Media Centre and social media channels. The project has also developed seven collections of educational resources linked to the planetary field analogue sites.

The full range of the project's activities were advertised during the Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC) 2020, which took place virtually with 1168 participants from 67 countries. A special session included participation by three Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and a representative of the Commission.
New facilities and services developed through Europlanet 2024 RI are already being recognised for their support for European involvement in planetary missions to Venus, Mars, Mercury and Jupiter’s icy moons.

Sites in the Argentinian Andes and the Qaidam Impact basin in China have been added to field analogues in Iceland, Greenland and Africa. Overall, these sites offer comprehensive acid-saline environments comparable to icy moon sub-surfaces or sedimentary deposits on Mars.

Innovations within the TA programme include reciprocal agreements that allows European and Korean or Chinese researchers to access each others’ facilities, and fast-track procedures for evaluation of urgent proposals.

There have also been significant advances in Europlanet’s VA activities. The VESPA-Cloud pilot is installing test data services on the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC), and SPIDER services have been used by the scientific community during Bepicolombo Venus flybys, and will be used for the upcoming Mercury flyby. Synergistic observations by heliospheric spacecraft during BepiColombo’s cruise phase have been identified, and some already implemented by ESA and JAXA.
Overall, the Europlanet 2024 RI project is already showing scientific impact in the form of publications and conference presentations. Socioeconomic impact is developed through engagement with industry, policymakers and the wider community at a local, national and international level.

Going forward, Europlanet 2024 RI will directly support hundreds of scientists through TA visits and serve thousands of online users through VA programmes. Workshops and conferences will be attended by thousands of researchers, and members of the public will be engaged through events, educational programmes and media coverage of planetary activities. In sum, access to facilities and expertise provided through Europlanet 2024 RI enables scientific and wider impacts that simply would not be possible without the support of the European Commission’s Research Infrastructure programme.
Field trip to Kangerlussuaq Planetary Field Analogue site in Greenland. Credit: C Rossi
Rio Tinto Planetary Field Analogue Site. Credit: F Gomez
Calar Alto Observatory. Credit: Calar Alto Observatory
The Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure Consortium. Credit: J Dempster
Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure Logo
Atomki Ice Chamber for Astrophysics / Astrochemistry (ICA). Credit: Atomki