Page last updated at 14:10 GMT, Thursday, 2 October 2008 15:10 UK

Space congress: Orbiting Glasgow

By Paul Rincon
Science reporter, BBC News, Glasgow

Leading lights in the space business are meeting at the 2008 International Astronautical Congress in Glasgow, UK.

Piper at Congress
The city of Glasgow is hosting the congress this year

Delegates are discussing the future of lunar and planetary exploration. Esa's director of science, David Southwood, is on the panel; as is one of the agency's chief scientists, Bernard Foing. They are joined by John Connolly, from the US space agency's Solar System science division.

Comments from the panel as they deliver them:

David Southwood calls the landing of the Huygens probe on Saturn's moon Titan "a true act of exploration". He says Europe's Gaia mission will track one billion stars in the Milky Way and 10,000 near-Earth objects. The mission will launch early in the next decade.

Europe is exploring a collaboration with the Japanese Space Agency (Jaxa) on the proposed Marco Polo asteroid mission. This would try to return a sample of rock to Earth labs. Esa will also need to decide between two major missions in the next decade: One called Tandem, to go to Titan; the other called Laplace which would visit the Jupiter system.

In the 1950s, schoolchildren were still being told there were canals on the surface of Mars, says Southwood. "We have come a long way," he observes.

ExoMars, Europe's proposed Red Planet rover, will launch on a French Ariane rocket, with a Russian Proton rocket as backup, he says.

"Europe is talking seriously to Nasa, not only about Mars Sample Return, but how to get there in a systematic way," Dr Southwood says. He adds that the two agencies are working towards the long-term goal of a manned Mars mission.

Esa is moving towards the next lunar missions. The next robotic missions will be driven by the requirements of future human exploration of the Moon, he adds.

John Connolly says Nasa's outer planets flagship mission is projected to fly in about 2020.

Nasa's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission will help plan the agency's human landings on the Moon by mapping the surface. It will be turned over to scientists after about a year.

Each US human lunar mission could bring back about 200kg of samples, he says. But Nasa is looking at how to increase this to more than 400kg.

Nasa's next big mission to the Red Planet, the Mars Science Laboratory, is a rover about the size of a Mini Cooper.

Europe's MoonNext mission, which has been under study, will not go forward, officials have decided, says David Southwood.

John Connolly says the US intends to launch the first International Lunar Network of science instruments, including experiments to measure seismic activity on the Moon.

IAC 2008 is the state-of-the-art Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre
The meeting is in the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre

Delegates are discussing Europe's contribution to monitoring Earth's climate from space.

Comments from the panel as they deliver them:

Mikko Strahlendorff from the Copernicus bureau at the European Commission says the Copernicus programme will make a "concrete" contribution to monitoring climate change. Copernicus is the joint EU/Esa programme to pull together all Earth observation satellites and the data they produce into a coherent programme. It used to go under the name of GMES - Global Monitoring for Environment and Security.

The Copernicus programme will fill observational gaps in environmental monitoring, says Strahlendorff.

The EU commissioner will push to make Copernicus an operational programme in 2009-2010.

The first dedicated Copernicus satellites (they are called Sentinels) will be operational between 2011 and 2014, allowing for long-term environmental monitoring services to get underway.

Peter Stott, from the UK's Met Office Hadley Centre, says climate modelling and environmental monitoring play a "key role" in communicating the urgency of tackling climate change, and can help the world adapt to the worst effects.

The question has now moved on from "is the climate changing?" to "how urgent is the problem?" - Peter Stott.

Colin Challen, chair of the UK all party parliamentary climate change group, says the current economic crisis is leading politicians to take their "eye off the ball" on climate change.

Peter Stott says climate models developed at the Hadley Centre do not show an ice-free Arctic during summer in 10 years, but, instead, somewhat later.

Data from Brazilian satellites shows that the rate of deforestation is much faster than expected - Colin Challen.

Mark Doherty, head of Earth Observation Exploitation and Services at the European Space Agency (Esa), says continuity of space-based global observations of Earth's climate is crucial for assessing trends.

Copernicus will be a quantum leap in environmental monitoring. Climate monitoring has far more stringent requirements than other types of observations, says Mark Doherty.

Mark Doherty: Five climate space-based observing systems are planned in the next few years. They will monitor global land change, sea-surface temperature with unprecedented accuracy, and the global carbon cycle. A radar imaging system will monitor the Greenland ice cap and the break-up of Antarctic ice shelves with 20m resolution.

Mikael Rattenborg is director of operations at Eumetsat, an organisation that oversees the acquisition of weather and climate data from space for Europe. He says his organisation has a clear mandate to make a contribution to climate change research using the data from its satellites.

Exhibition Hall (Getty)
A lot of the discussion is about cooperation in space - such as the space station

All the heads of agencies have gathered to discuss the state of play in space. Mike Griffin, the boss of Nasa is here; as is Esa's Jean-Jacques Dordain; Russia's deputy Alexander Medvedchikov; Sun Laiyan from China; Japan's Keji Tachikawa; and B.N. Suresh who is representing ISRO, the Indian agency.

Their thoughts as they deliver them:

Mike Griffin says he is asked often whether the US will end its commitment to the space station in 2015. His answer is "I can't imagine that happening".

From the Moon, the US will go to the near-Earth asteroids and then to Mars.

"Things are going quite well" on the shuttle replacement, Ares-Orion, says Mr Griffin, despite what people read on "certain internet blogs".

Nasa is getting the backing it needs in Congress. "I feel quite secure in looking forward to our future."

Jean-Jacques Dordain says that Europe has stepped up in space. After the launch of its space station science lab Columbus, it has gone from "a partner on the ground to one in space".

He's saluted the performance of the space station freighter, the ATV, and says the atomic clock in the satellite Giove B is working well. Giove B is the demonstrator spacecraft for Europe's answer to GPS.

He thanks the US and Russia for their cooperation on Herschel and Planck, two space telescopes to be launched next year. They will "bring us closer to the origin of the Universe", he says.

Next to speak: Alexander Medvedchikov - deputy head of the Russian federal space agency (Roscosmos).

He also talks about satellite navigation. An important decision on the financing of Glonass (the Russian sat-nav) was recently made. Three satellites will launch soon, providing full coverage of Russian territory. By the end of next year, Russia will have the full orbital constellation and maybe even some backup satellites.

On the recent decision of the US Congress to allow Nasa to buy Soyuz capsules to fly to the ISS after the retirement of the shuttle, he says it's important news. "We want a space station that is deployed and full."

The most important projects in the years to come, says Mr Medvedchikov, are the new generation of space transportation systems. Russian may build one with the Europeans.

B.N. Suresh: The Indian Chandrayaan Moon orbiter is preparing for launch.

The Indian space agency has a programme to launch 10 satellites (called PSLV). Disaster-monitoring satellites play an important role for India.

Japan's Keji Tachikawa says his agency, Jaxa, will be launching satellites for environmental and disaster-monitoring. One highlight next year will be Japan's ISS re-supply vehicle. It's a slightly smaller ship than the European ATV.

He salutes the support given to Jaxa by the Japanese government.

Sun Laiyan - the administrator of the Chinese space agency - updates us on Shenzhou. The astronauts have returned home safely. Chang'e, China's Moon orbiter, has completed a "a full global image" of the lunar surface, he adds.

China launched two disaster-monitoring satellites in September. They are part of a constellation of eight. Next year, China will launch a satellite with synthetic aperture radar, the type of radar instrument that Europe's Envisat and ERS spacecraft have used to great effect to deliver height and mapping data.

In March this year, China signed an agreement with Russia on a Mars exploration initiative. The satellite is due to be launch next year, says the China administrator.

Flush from the success of Shenzhou, he says elements of a space station will be in orbit by 2011; and that there will be a robotic landing on the Moon by 2013.

Steve MacLean, president of the Canadian space agency, congratulates the private SpaceX company on its first successful launch last night (SpaceX is run by the internet billionaire Elon Musk; his commercial business could be ferrying astronauts to the space station one day). Maclean also congratulates China on its Shenzhou spacewalk.

The Canadian Space Agency has accepted two places offered by Nasa in its astronaut class of 2009. "At the moment we only have three active astronauts in Canada. Some of us were getting too old to fly".

Mike Griffin is asked whether the astronauts that return to the Moon in 2020 will be American. He replies: "That is still to be determined".

Mr Griffin says the efficiency of technologies used on manned missions to the Moon and Mars will help humans conserve resources more effectively on Earth.

Europe's upcoming gravity satellite, Goce, will help shed light on some of the Earth's environmental challenges, says Jean-Jacques Dordain. But providing solutions to climate change on Earth requires understanding the other planets, especially Mars and Venus.

Asked whether the UK should be involved in manned spaceflight through Nasa or the European Space Agency, Mr Dordain says: "Getting the UK interested in manned spaceflight is the first step."

Sun Laiyan says China is organising an Asia-Pacific space cooperation organisation. Nine countries have agreed to be part in the organisation. This organisation will partly focus on the training of astronauts.

Large-scale projects for the exploration of space should be implemented internationally, says Mr Medvedchikov. Extensive cooperation between space-faring nations on national security is unlikely.

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