PARIS (ESA PR) – The UK has secured a leading role in the development of a space telescope that will study the atmospheres of distant worlds.
The mission – called Ariel – will study the gases that enclose about 1,000 extrasolar planets to address basic questions about how they formed and evolved.
Due to the launch in 2029, it is the first assignment devoted to this type of analysis.
Approximately £ 30 million in funding is provided by the UK as part of an agreement with ESA member states that confirmed the mission’s roles.
Ariel, proposed by an international consortium led by University College London (UCL), was selected by ESA from among 26 proposals put forward to be the next “middle class mission” in its science program.
It is the third of a trio of dedicated ESA exoplanet missions, after Cheops – launched in 2019 – and Plato, scheduled to launch in 2026.
The UK will lead Ariel’s overall science and lead a consortium of 17 countries building the mission’s payload module.
British experts will also take responsibility for the development of the cryogenic cooler and optical ground support equipment, as well as scientific activities and data processing.
Researchers at UCL and the University of Cardiff will lead performance analysis, testing and fine-tuning of the complex algorithms that will process data returned from Ariel. A team at the University of Oxford will supply the equipment to test Ariel’s payload telescopes and optical elements.
Giovanna Tinetti, Chief Research Officer and Head of Science Development for Ariel at UCL, said: “Ariel will change by helping us understand the planets in our galaxy. By studying hundreds of different worlds in different environments, we will see our own planet in context. which gives us a better sense of why the earth was formed the way it was. “
“We are very grateful to the British Space Agency and the British Government for their continued support and commitment to the advancement of planetary science, which helps us understand worlds beyond our solar system as well as within it.”
Teams at the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s RAL Space facility on Harwell Campus will build and test the Ariel payload module and handle hardware contributions from other consortium nations, while the STFC technology department develops the 5.5 million pound cryogenic active cooling system.
Paul Eccleston, Ariel Consortium Program Manager and Chief Engineer at RAL Space, said: “We welcome the agreement and commitment from the British Space Agency to enable this collaboration. I am pleased that the UK is taking a leading role in the mission and proud of the progress made. “The consortium has already done so to design the payload. These ties will only be strengthened as we move towards launch.”
Britain’s science minister George Freeman said: “This is an incredibly important commitment to British space science and technology, which marks an important milestone for the national space strategy and increases our ambitions to grow our £ 16.5 billion commercial space sector.”
“By investing £ 30 million and taking the helm of the entire Ariel consortium – for the first time in a decade we have secured leadership for a mission of this magnitude – we are putting the UK at the heart of international space research, providing new opportunities for space companies and academics all over the country.”
Günther Hasinger, ESA’s Head of Science, said: “Ariel is a very important mission for ESA’s space science program and among our world-leading fleet of missions studying extrasolar planets. This commitment from the British Space Agency and our scientific partner institutions in the UK is a major step forward for Ariel, and we look forward to working closely together to carry out the mission. ”
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