The European Space Agency (ESA) has given the green light to the world’s first space telescope dedicated to studying how exoplanet atmospheres form and evolve.

Its mission is to understand the links between a planet’s chemistry and its environment by charting approximately 1,000 known planets outside our own solar system, arming scientists with a full picture of what exoplanets are made of, how they were formed and how they will evolve.

The Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey, or Ariel as it’s better known, has been put through a rigorous review process throughout 2020, and is now slated for launch in 2029.

Thanks to Government funding through the UK Space Agency, UK research institutions – including UCL, the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) RAL Space, Technology Department and UK Astronomy Technology Centre, Cardiff University and University of Oxford – are playing a critical role in the mission; providing leadership, contributing expertise, vital hardware and software and shaping its goals.

Once in orbit, Ariel will rapidly share its data with the general public – inviting space enthusiasts and budding Astronomers to use the data to help select targets and characterise stars.

Science Minister, Amanda Solloway, said:

“Thanks to government funding, this ambitious UK- led mission will mark the first large scale study of planets outside the solar system, and will enable our leading space scientists to answer critical questions on their formation and evolution. It is a testament to the brilliant work of the UK space industry, our incredible scientists and researchers led by University College London and RAL Space and our international partners that this mission is ‘lifting off’. I look forward to watching it progress towards launch in 2029.”

You can read more here.

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Andy

Why do we have to ask the ESA? Am I missing something?

RobW

This is an ESA mission which we are contributing to, it isn’t a UK only project. We couldn’t fund it all or launch it on our own. ESA is not an EU institution, it has non EU members, including the UK. Not sure if that answers your question?

Andy

Cheers assumed was EU based. With our new new supposed space facilities is this something we could be launching our selves

Dern

No. For starters our Space facilities are not up and running. For seconds: UK space ports are aimed at high inclination orbits for small payloads in LEO (Low Earth Orbits) and SSO (Sun Stationary Orbits). For comparison, the most likely rockets we are looking at using: Electron can Carry 300 KG to LEO and 200Kg to SSO Prime can carry 150kg to SSO Launcher 1 can carry about 500kg to SSO Skylark L can carry about 100kg to LEO and, Skyrora XL might be able to carry about 300kg to SSO. To put these numbers into perspective SSO’s are generally… Read more »

Last edited 16 days ago by Dern
dave12

Nicely put and reality check

Watcherzero

UK is part of the European Space Agency, way European Space Agency works is similar to the US congressional budget system. A mission is given development funding and worked up by the ESA projects team into a costed bid proposal. It is then proposed to the ESA Ministerial Council competing with other projects to be prioritised based on the scientific benefit and if approved the ESA Council then ask their members for funding contributions to it. The workshare of the mission is then proportional to the contributions. So if the UK government pledges 75% of the mission cost it would… Read more »

Watcherzero

So for example the NASA-JPL contribution is an instrument called CASE which is the same hardware as the EUCLID mission. Three short wavelength infrared cameras which will also contribute star positioning navigational data to help with the spacecrafts fine positioning system.
And thats just one of 11 separate instrument packages onboard.

Last edited 16 days ago by Watcherzero
Dern

Unfortunately given the size (just over 1,300 kg) and proposed location (Earth L2) there is no way on earth (pardon the pun) that ARIEL can be launched from one of our UK spaceports (assuming it’s up and running by then).

Given that it’s ESA I’m guessing a launch from French Guyana on one of the newer Ariane rockets?

Watcherzero

It was designed to be launchable by a Vega-C but its currently pencilled in for a Ariane 62.

Dern

Ah I always forget about Vega, but still surprising, I’d have thought it would be a bit small for lifting out to L2.

Julian

ESA, NASA, blah, blah, blah. Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely patriotic and proud of all the scientific progress the UK continues to contribute to our planet and consider it one of the highest national priorities for us to maintain and extend our scientific and technological competitiveness, but regardless of country(ies) of origin I continue to find it amazing how in a few decades we as a species have gone from only speculating about there being any other planets at all outside of our solar system (“Might our solar system really be the only one in the universe with… Read more »

The Big Man

I just watched this. I have absolutely no background in anything science based, but the narrator explains the concept incredibly well. Actually enjoyed it. Probably wont bring up the subject down the pub, but gave me a great insight.
What I think is amazing is not what it can do, but that someone worked it out. Mind blowing.
Thanks