The European Space Agency (ESA) has finally chosen the mission to be funded as its third M-class (Medium Class) science mission. The successful project was PLATO (Planetary Transits and Oscillations of stars) mission which is design to search out plants orbiting stars in other solar systems.
The mission is planned to be launched by a Soyuz rocket in 2024 and will use 34 high powered telescopes and cameras during its six year mission to examine regular dips in the brightness of nearby stars. This light dip phenomenon is indicative that a planet is transiting the planet and partially blocking out its sunlight. The stars’ seismic activity will also be measured which will allow each planets mass, diameter and density to be calculated and give an indication of its constituents. Emphasis will be made to discover planets capable of sustaining life.
The PLATO spacecraft will be placed in a halo orbit at the L2 Lagrangian point 1.5km from Earth where the Sun and Earth’s gravitational fields balance.
The four other mission concepts which lost out for the M3 launch opportunity were: EChO (the Exoplanet CHaracterisation Observatory) – a similar mission to PLATO looking for life-bearing planets, LOFT (the Large Observatory ...