The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Science Policy Committee has selected a successor to NASA’s highly successful Kepler. The mission, the PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars, or Plato, is scheduled to launch in 2024.
Similar to Kepler, the Plato mission should cost just over 600 million euros, although hardware contributions from other parties will push the cost closer to a billion euros. Still this is relatively inexpensive as far a modern space missions are concerned.
Working off the data returned by Kepler, Plato will be tuned specifically to seek out rocky worlds orbiting in the “goldilocks” or “habitable zone,” which is the region around a star where water can exist in a liquid state. So Plato is going to be more specific to finding Earth-like planets, where Kepler was designed to just find the planets.
Image Credit: University of Warwick
“Plato will be our first attempt to find nearby habitable planets around Sun-like stars that we can actually examine in sufficient detail to look for life,” said Dr Don Pollacco, the University of Warwick researcher who leads the Plato Science Consortium.
Plato will be parked at the L2 Lagrange point, so it will be in permanent orbit. However, like Kepler, no rescue missions are currently possible if something goes wrong.
Plato is a suite of 34 telescopes mounted on a single satellite. The array will image about half the sky, to investigate some of its brightest and nearest stars and search them for planets using light curves.
The array will have 136 charge-coupled devices (CCDs) made by e2v in Chelmsford. The total imaging surface will be about a square meter and have 2.5 billion pixels.
- Ex astris, scientia -
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