Switzerland participates in the Human Spaceflight and Exploration programmes of ESA. Still today, Switzerland identifies itself through Claude Nicollier, the first and so far only Swiss astronaut who carried the Swiss flag to space. Today, Switzerland contributes actively to the International Space Station, the Lunar Gateway,the ExoMars and Mars Sample Return mission.
ESA: Science and Exploration at three destinations: Low Earth Orbit, the Moon and Mars
Switzerland is a participating state in the European Exploration Envelope Programme (E3P), which was initiated at the occasion of the ESA Council at Ministerial level in Lucerne in 2016. This programme implements the ESA Space Exploration Strategy, which includes the exploration of Moon and Mars. The initial step in this endeavor includes the scientific and technological exploitation of the International Space Station (ISS).
The ISS is a partnership of ESA and its participating states with the USA, Russia, Canada and Japan. This facility offers unique possibilities for conducting experiments in the areas of human physiology and other complex experiments in the areas of molecular biology, material science and radiation protection. Such experiments aim primarily at direct and indirect applications on the Earth, but also for the preparation of future exploration programmes to the other destinations. The Space Biology Group at Hochschule Luzern operates a User Operation and Support Center (USOC) that supports scientists in the development and implementation of experiments on board the ISS.
The participation of Switzerland in the development and utilisation of the ISS enables Swiss industry and the scientific community to play a prominent role in many aspects of the programme. It provides opportunities for industry to develop and build key hardware components (for example the structures of the Columbus-Module and European Resupply Spacecraft Autonomous Transfer Vehicle ATV). For the research community it allows the utilization of different microgravity platforms, such as parabolic flights, to conduct their experiments.
For the destination Moon, ESA, within the frame of E3P, participates in the next lunar exploration programme whose first step is to develop and build a small space station in orbit around the Moon (Lunar Gateway). This project is also implemented in partnership with the USA, Japan and Canada. Amongst others, a Swiss radiation monitor shall be installed on the Gateway to investigate the radiation environment around the Moon.
The exploration of Mars can today only be done with robotic assets. ESA has developed, in collaboration with Russia, the ExoMars mission, which, composed of an orbiter and a subsequent lander mission, aims at searching for life on the Martian surface. The ExoMars orbiter TGO carries as one of its instruments a high-resolution stereo camera that was developed and built in Switzerland, targeting potential sources of methane, but also investigating other geological features from orbit. On the ExoMars rover, which is targeted for launch in 2022, includes a micro camera to enable close-up investigations of the Martian surface. The next step with contributions from Switzerland will be a NASA/ESA Mars Sample Return campaign with the ambitious objective to bring back to Earth a sample of Mars.