Role of the institute

Mission, vision, and strategy

SRON’s mission is to bring about breakthroughs in international space research.

Therefore the institute develops pioneering technology and advanced space instruments, and uses them to pursue fundamental astrophysical research, Earth science and exoplanetary research. As national expertise institute SRON gives counsel to the Dutch government and coordinates – from a science standpoint – national contributions to international space missions. SRON stimulates the implementation of space science in our society.

SRON’s “expertise triangle” and embedding

SRON is the Dutch national expertise institute for scientific space research. It is part of NWO. Since the foundation of the institute by university groups, in the early 1960s, we have, often in a leading role, provided key contributions to instruments of missions of the major space agencies, ESA, NASA, and JAXA. These contributions have enabled the national and international space-research communities to explore the universe and to investigate the Earth’s atmosphere and climate. As a national expertise institute, we stimulate collaboration between the science community, technological institutes, and industry.

Our vision is to continue to belong to the international forefront in search for answers to some of the most fundamental existential and societal questions of mankind: What is the origin of the universe and what is it made of? Is there life elsewhere in the universe? What is the future of the Earth’s climate? What are the atmospheric processes that govern changes in the Earth’s climate and air quality. What role does human activity play?

Our strategy is to develop science cases, key enabling technologies, prototypes/demonstrators, space-qualified instrumentation, and data-analysis tools that will define the next generation of space missions, to be launched in the 2020s and 2030s. This enables us to lead major contributions to answering the fundamental questions of our time. The institute has made sharp choices in its programme based on its strengths, the priorities of the national science community, and the opportunities in international space research. Driven by the Netherlands commitment to the ESA charter, it is our strategy to be principal investigator (PI) or co-PI institute for major instruments on ESA missions.

International role

SRON’s playing field is the international big science arena, which is a vibrant national and international interdisciplinary network of space agencies, universities, knowledge institutes, large companies and SMEs. Space agencies such as ESA, NASA, and JAXA provide launch opportunities for selected missions following calls to the science community. SRON helps to shape these costly missions, especially those of the European Space Agency (ESA), by defining science cases, by developing and proto-typing enabling technologies, and by implementing space-qualified instrumentation and data analysis tools.

The Dutch government contributes directly to the mandatory ESA Science Programme (which focuses on astrophysics and solar system exploration) through its ESA membership fee. ESA Member States also provide scientific payloads (instruments) as national contributions to the missions. The ESA Science Programme for 2015-2035, called Cosmic Vision, has L-class (about 1 B€), M-class (500-550 M€), and S-class (about 50 M€) missions and missions of opportunity as its building blocks. The Dutch government also contributes to ESA’s optional Earth science programmes. Contrary to the Science Programme the instruments are funded by ESA and are acquired in European competition.

National role

SRON is the main institute for Dutch contributions to the scientific payload of missions in the mandatory ESA Science Programme. As national expertise institute SRON gives counsel to the Dutch government and coordinates – from a science standpoint – national contributions to international space missions. The SRON general director leads the Dutch delegation in the ESA Science Programme Committee (SPC), which decides on the mandatory science programme of the agency, and is an advisor to the Dutch delegation in the ESA Council. SRON is also represented in the advisory structure to the ESA Earth Observation programme board. The NWO executive board has mandated SRON to carry out an advisory role to the Dutch government (the Ministries and Netherlands Space Office, NSO) in the area of scientific space research.

National priorities in astrophysics and exoplanetary science, both from the ground and in space, are discussed and decided within the Netherlands Committee for Astronomy (NCA), in which all universities, SRON, and ASTRON are represented. In Earth-oriented science, SRON and KNMI have taken an initiative to form a similar structure. As a national institute, we collaborate with Dutch SMEs, and larger companies, through co-development and consultancy. SRON also helps SMEs to participate in ESA contracts.