Plato exoplanet mission gets green light for next phase

on 02 February 2022

Plato, ESA’s next-generation planet hunting mission, has been given the green light to continue with its development after the critical milestone review concluded successfully on 11 January 2022.

The review verified the maturity of the complete space segment (spacecraft platform and payload module), confirming the solidity of the spacecraft-to-payload interfaces, the payload schedule with particular focus on the series production of the 26 cameras, and the robustness of the spacecraft schedule. Plato will use the 26 cameras to discover and characterise exoplanets that orbit stars similar to our Sun.

The critical milestone review was established specifically for Plato at the time of mission adoption because of the development risks associated with the series production of the cameras. The review was carried out during the period between July and December 2021. The review teams consisted of more than 100 people from ESA divided into two panels (one for the spacecraft and one for the payload) that submitted their findings to the board.

The next major milestone for Plato is the spacecraft critical design review in 2023, which will verify the detailed design of the complete spacecraft before proceeding with its assembly.

After launch, currently planned for end 2026, Plato will travel to Lagrange point 2 in space, 1.5 million km beyond Earth in the direction away from the Sun. From this point the telescope will observe more than 200 000 stars during its four-year nominal operation, looking for regular dips in their light caused by the transit of a planet across the star’s disc. The analysis of these transits and of the stellar light variations will allow precise determinations of the properties of exoplanets and their host stars.

More details here.

Image credit: ESA