Space science missions (as well as, today, more and more large ground-based research facilities) are often collaborative enterprises among different partners, with partnerships involving ESA, NASA, and JAXA common, and partnerships involving other space-faring entities (such as Chinese, Indian, South Korean and other agencies) less common. Cooperation among scientists is widespread, and scientific papers based on results from space science missions with authors from many different countries are by now commonplace (if not the norm). 

The forum will issue, based on the experience and expertise of its participants, recommendations addressed to scientists involved, or planning to be involved in missions with cooperative components, with the goal, among others, of advancing science by fostering a common language among scientists wishing to engage in future collaborations.

The reasons for cooperation in space science missions are many, ranging from the idea being born within a pre-existing scientific collaboration, to the desire to build a more performant mission by pooling resources, to the wish to cover a broader set of science topics by implementing more missions. The reasons for fostering collaboration can be different for the scientists and for the space agencies, with the latter often having more political reasons, either at agency or at government level. These may include the projection of soft power created by inviting junior partners to one’s flagship missions. 

Cooperation brings, in addition to many advantages, also significant challenges with it. These include the managerial challenges created by the additional interfaces, the ones created by the need to work across different cultures (and, more trivially, time zones), as well as the questions of which partner is leading, who is taking the risk of one of the partners failing to deliver, etc. While these issues may be less acute when one partner is leading at a significant level (so that the contributions of the junior partners are not enabling) they can become very significant when partners have comparable shares.

The different roles of Principal Investigators in the different space agencies adds complexity to the issue, so that issues of governance often affect the approach to collaboration. Some scientific communities may be not interested to cooperate on given missions for reasons, e.g., of national prestige, or because, having sufficient resources to implement a given mission on their own, they may not be interested in taking onboard the risks and complexity added by partnership. More broadly, scientific excellence thrives also through competition, which may not make cooperation always the best solution.

Finally, the space ecosystem is changing fast, so that the approaches and rules that were the norm ten or twenty years ago may today be no longer applicable, and new, different approaches may have to be sought.

Goal of the ISSI Forum

Scientists often present proposals for missions in response to opportunities open by space agencies that show that scientists and agencies have a different understanding of the reasons, and “rules” of collaboration in space science missions.

The goal of the Forum is to put together a number of scientists with experience in space science missions with a broad diversity of backgrounds (scientific, cultural, etc.), to discuss the pros and cons of different approach to collaboration, to compare the view from space agencies and from scientific players, to discuss experiences and case studies, and to distill some guidelines based on experience and insight by the Forum participants.The questions to which the Forum should try to give an answer include:

  • When is collaboration in a space science mission desirable and why?
  • When is collaboration perhaps not desirable and why?
  • Which collaboration schemes have been/can be successful?
  • Which schemes have failed and why?
  • How should scientists foster collaboration?
  • What are the obstacles to international collaboration?
  • What are the costs (financial and of other type) of international collaboration?
  • What are the most frequent mistakes and misjudgments made and how can they be avoided?

Space science missions are implemented under the responsibility of space agencies, who hold the funding and the decision authority, including on collaboration. The goal of the forum is to address scientists, hoping to inform their approach to possible collaborations for the future (and present). The forum will not issue recommendation to the agencies (that are sovereign entities), although hopefully agency officials may find something of interest in them. 


Header Image by F. Favata