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Delivery of first detectors for PLATO’s exoplanet mission

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Supply of first detectors for PLATO’s exoplanet mission

11 April 2019

The primary batch of charge-coupled gadgets, or CCDs, to be flown on ESA’s PLATO house observatory was accepted by ESA final month. This is a vital milestone on the street to making a groundbreaking spacecraft that can detect Earth-sized exoplanets in orbit round close by stars.

One of many PLATO CCDs. Credit score: ESA – S. Madden

PLATO, or PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars, is the second ESA-led mission to be devoted to exoplanets – planets past our Photo voltaic System – and the third with ESA participation. At present deliberate to be launched in 2026, PLATO will comply with within the footsteps of CHEOPS, the CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite tv for pc mission, scheduled for launch later this 12 months, and the CNES-led CoRoT mission, which operated between 2006 and 2014.

PLATO’s major process can be to seek for rocky, Earth-like planets orbiting comparatively close by stars which might be much like the Solar. Over durations of months to years, PLATO will utilise extremely delicate gentle detectors – quite like superior variations of the CCDs utilized in digital cameras – to watch the altering brightness of hundreds of stars.

The CCDs in PLATO’s cameras will detect any slight dimming and brightening of a star attributable to a number of planets shifting in entrance of it. Such planets are extraordinarily troublesome to detect and research due to their small dimension and faintness, proximity to their stars, and nice distance from Earth.

The CCDs can be a key component of PLATO’s scientific instrument, which is being offered by a consortium of European analysis facilities and institutes. The instrument will boast the biggest digital mixed digicam ever flown in house, receiving gentle from 26 telescopes, all mounted on a single satellite tv for pc platform.

The mixed digicam may have a particularly large subject of view, overlaying a complete space on the sky of roughly 2250 sq. levels – as a comparability, the total Moon spans solely about zero.2 sq. levels on the sky. PLATO will make use of this big protection space by pointing its telescopes concurrently at a small variety of chosen ‘fields’ within the sky.

Relying on the science operations plan that’s ultimately chosen, PLATO will observe between 10 and 50 per cent of the sky from its orbital location across the L2 Lagrange level, 1.5 million km away from Earth within the anti-Solar course.

Every telescope will embody 4 CCDs which have been specifically designed and produced by Teledyne e2v in Chelmsford, UK.

One of many PLATO CCDs being inspected. Credit score: ESA – S. Madden

The primary 20 CCDs for PLATO had been accepted for supply by ESA in mid March, and the remaining 84 detectors can be delivered in additional batches earlier than the tip of 2020.

The supply of the primary detectors presently is essential as a result of it secures the early availability of one of many key components of the entire mission,” mentioned Bengt Johlander, PLATO payload supervisor at ESA.

It additionally permits the PLATO workforce to proceed with the primary stage of the advanced integration and testing of the big variety of telescopes within the satellite tv for pc.”

The PLATO CCDs produce every a picture of 20 megapixels (or Mpixels), which is equal to the output of a mid-range business digital digicam. Many of the CCDs will take measurements each 25 seconds, however eight of them can be fitted in two ‘quick’ telescopes that can make measurements of brighter stars each 2.5 seconds.

Every telescope will due to this fact comprise about 80 Mpixels, leading to a full satellite tv for pc complete of two.12 gigapixels (Gpixels). That is over twice the equal quantity for ESA’s Gaia misssion, which at the moment options the biggest digicam ever flown in house.

The big format of the CCDs – roughly eight cm × eight cm per detector – will lead to a complete optically delicate floor of zero.74 sq. metres. The detectors will work at a temperature decrease than -65°C to maximise their sensitivity.

PLATO is not going to solely seek for new planets but in addition research the properties of their host stars, and decide the planetary plenty, sizes and ages with unprecedented accuracy, to enhance our understanding of planetary system structure and establish probably liveable worlds.


PLATO is the third medium-class mission in ESA’s long-term Cosmic Imaginative and prescient programme. Its goal is to seek out and research a lot of extrasolar planetary programs, with emphasis on the properties of terrestrial (rocky) planets – a few of which can be within the liveable zone round Solar-like stars.

Throughout its deliberate 4 12 months prime mission, PLATO will observe a whole bunch of hundreds of stars, resulting in the invention and characterisation of hundreds of latest exoplanets. PLATO will scan and observe big areas of the sky, concentrating on the brightest and nearest stars.

PLATO has additionally been designed to analyze seismic exercise in stars, enabling the exact characterisation of a planet’s host star, together with its age.

ESA is offering the spacecraft, the CCDs, the mission operations, and components of the science operations. The PLATO Mission Consortium, funded by nationwide companies, is offering the payload and contributes to the science operations.

For additional data, please contact:

Filippo Marliani

PLATO challenge supervisor

Directorate of Science

European Area Company

E-mail: Filippo.Marliani@esa.int

Bengt Johlander

PLATO payload supervisor

Directorate of Science

European Area Company

E-mail: Bengt.Johlander@esa.int

Final Replace: 11 April 2019

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