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Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - EPN-2024-RI (Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure)

Reporting period: 2021-08-01 to 2023-01-31

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.
In Reporting Period 2, Europlanet 2024 RI’s programmes of Transnational Access (TA), Virtual Access (VA), Joint Research Activities (JRA) and Networking Activities (NA) have all delivered services to the community and reached out to new users.
Europlanet 2024 RI has provided TA to an expanded set of 7 world-leading field sites and over 40 laboratory facilities. The TA programme supports travel and local accommodation costs for researchers to visit facilities, as well as the service costs for the facility in hosting a physical or remote visit. Work on upgrading 6 of the TA facilities and providing staff training as part of a JRA programme has been completed, with five projects extended to incorporate additional work made possible due to the reduced operations at facilities during the pandemic. In a ‘Fast Track’ and third full call, 144 applications were submitted, with 23 visits to field sites and 70 visits to laboratory facilities approved for funding. A total of 61 visits were completed during the reporting period.
State-of-the-art VA offers data services and tools supporting all areas of planetary science. 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 RP2, all the services and databases have been prototyped and made operational. SPIDER services have been used during BepiColombo flybys of Venus and Mercury, and in coordinated observations between Solar Orbiter and Bepicolombo, resulting in several high-impact publications.
The VESPA (Virtual European Solar and Planetary Access) network of interoperable data services currently connects 62 services, with more than 200 services being tested for inclusion. In August 2022, the EPN-TAP protocol and associated metadata vocabulary was approved by the International Virtual Observatory Alliance (IVOA) as the international standard to share and access Solar System data in the Virtual Observatory (VO).
Information and data access components for the GMAP geological mapping service are accessible by both internal and external user communities. New collaborations have been established around the world and a community of GMAP VA mappers initiated through a Winter School that, in its third edition, attracted over 400 participants.
The Machine Learning (ML) JRA has developed seven science cases. Services are accessible through a public portal and codes and scripts are available for the scientific community through a public GitHub.
The Coordination of Ground-based Observations NA has opened up small telescope facilities to professional and amateur observers. The Europlanet Telescope Network currently links 16 facilities located around the globe in support of planetary missions. During RP2, the Telescope Network has granted 76 observing nights on its facilities.
NAs are widening the user base and drawing in new partners from Under-Represented States (URS), non-EU countries, industry and interdisciplinary fields, as well as training the next generation of RI leaders and users. NAs 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. Workshops have been held in Botswana and Ethiopia and an Ambassadors’ Programme launched to support Global Collaboration. A Dinner Debate was held in the European Parliament in January 2023, attended by MEPs, representatives of the European Commission, the European Space Agency and leading space industry.
Early career researchers have been supported through bursaries, a training and education portal, and a mentoring service, which has matched 61 pairs of mentors and mentees to date.
Results from Europlanet 2024 RI have been successfully disseminated through the Europlanet Media Centre and social media channels. The project has also developed and disseminated educational resources for schools.
The full range of the project's activities were advertised during the Europlanet Science Congress, as well as multiple international conferences, workshops and journal publications.
New facilities and services developed through Europlanet 2024 RI are already being recognised for their support of European involvement in planetary missions to Venus, Mars, Mercury and Jupiter’s icy moons.
Sites in the Argentinian Andes 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 Asian researchers to access each others’ facilities, fast-track procedures for evaluation of urgent proposals, and remote access protocols.
There have also been significant advances in Europlanet’s VA activities. The VESPA EPN-TAP is a standard in the IVOA, International Planetary Data Alliance (IPDA) and increasingly adopted by ESA and NASA. SPIDER services have been used by the scientific community during Bepicolombo Venus and Mercury flybys. Synergistic observations by heliospheric spacecraft during BepiColombo’s cruise phase, identified using SPIDER, have been implemented by ESA and JAXA.
The Europlanet 2024 RI project is showing scientific impact in the form of over 200 publications and conference presentations. Socioeconomic impact is developed through engagement with industry, policymakers and the wider community at a local, national and international level.
Overall, Europlanet 2024 RI is directly supporting hundreds of scientists through TA visits and serving thousands of online users through VA programmes. Workshops and conferences are reaching thousands of researchers, and members of the public are being 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