Ariel, ESA’s mission to study the chemical makeup of distant exoplanets, has taken an important step towards its 2029 launch by approving the Preliminary Design Review (PDR). The mission will study nearly 1,000 exoplanets and contribute to the understanding of planet formation and the search for extraterrestrial life.
Ariel (Atmospheric Remote Sensing Infrared Exoplanet Major Survey), ESA’s next-generation mission to observe the chemical makeup of distant exoplanets, has passed an important milestone after successfully completing the payload Preliminary Design Review (PDR).
The successful completion of the payload PDR marks a crucial step for Ariel, demonstrating that the mission’s payload design meets all required technical and scientific specifications and there are no delays for the projected launch in 2029.
The Ariel payload will consist of an integrated package of the telescope, the Ariel infrared spectrometer (AIRS) and the Precision Orientation System (FGS) module. It also includes necessary supporting hardware and services.
The Ariel consortium freight team prepared 179 technical documents and asked 364 questions for a panel of ESA experts who evaluated the feasibility, performance and robustness of the payload design. The review examined every aspect of the proposed payload to ensure that the designed systems met the technical, scientific and operational requirements of the mission.
As a result of this great success, the mission can now move to the payload CDR (Critical Design Review) and start producing the first prototype models.
“This is a really big step forward for the mission and we are very pleased with the outcome,” says ESA Ariel project scientist Theresa Lueftinger. “The ESA team, the Ariel Consortium freight forwarding team and Airbus have put a great deal of work and effort into the achievement of this important milestone and the collaboration has gone extremely well. All the elements have been brought together and evaluated and now we know the mission is feasible and we can do the science.”
Ariel will observe about 1,000 exoplanets, from rocky planets to gas giants. The mission will study the nature of these exoplanets, both individually and as a population, and monitor the activities of their host stars.
Using a variety of techniques, Ariel will detect signs of well-known components in the atmospheres of planets, such as water vapor, carbon dioxide and methane. It will also detect exotic metallic compounds to decipher the overall chemical environment of the distant star system. Ariel will study clouds on several planets and monitor the changes in their atmospheres on both daily and seasonal time scales.
Ariel’s observations of these different worlds will provide insight into the early stages of planetary and atmospheric formation and their evolution over time. These observations will contribute to our understanding of our own Solar System and lay the groundwork for future searches for life elsewhere in the Universe and on Earth-like planets.
Ariel was selected as the fourth intermediate (‘M-class’) mission in ESA’s Cosmic Vision 2015–25 plan in March 2018. It was adopted in November 2020 and is currently in development.
Ariel is a collaboration between ESA and the Ariel Mission Consortium. The Consortium, which includes more than 50 institutes from 16 European countries, will provide the payload module for the mission, including the reflector telescope and associated science instruments.
Meanwhile, Airbus will lead the European industrial consortium building the satellite and provide expertise and support to ESA and the Ariel Mission Consortium for the development of the payload module. NASA and other space agencies are also adding to the load.
In addition to being responsible for launch and operations, ESA will provide the service module, integration and testing of the spacecraft flight model. After launch, operations will be carried out jointly by ESA and the Consortium.
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