Plato is Europe’s Planet Hunting Telescope mission. Plato spacecraft is a space-based observatory to search for planets orbiting alien stars. To be launched in 2024.

Exoplanetary Systems

Picture: Exoplanetary Systems

Plato is ESA’s third medium-class science mission.

Name

PLATO stands for ‘Planetary Transits and Oscillations of stars’. Plato is also the name of the famous Greek philosopher in Classical Greece.

Launch

PLATO will be launched on a Soyuz ST rocket from Europe’s Kourou Spaceport in  2024. The duration of the mission will be 6 years. Plato spacecraft will be located at L2, a virtual point in space about 1.5 million km beyond Earth as seen from the Sun.

Mission

The aim of the PLATO mission is to:

  1. To identify and study thousands of exoplanetary systems.
  2. To discover and characterise Earth-sized planets and super-Earths in the habitable zone of their parent star
  3. To monitor relatively nearby stars, searching for tiny, regular dips in brightness as their planets transit in front of them, temporarily blocking out a small fraction of the starlight.
  4. To investigate seismic activity in the stars, enabling a precise characterization of the host sun of each planet discovered, including its mass, radius and age.
  5. To determine what are the conditions for planet formation and the emergence of life
  6. To study and how does the Solar System work?

Spacecraft

The contractor is Arianespace.

History

* The mission was first proposed in 2007.

* In February 2011 the European Space Agency choose four candidates for the 3rd medium class mission (M3) with a proposed target launch date of 2024. The four other mission concepts investigated were:

  1. EChO (the Exoplanet CHaracterisation Observatory)
  2. LOFT (the Large Observatory For x-ray Timing)
  3. MarcoPolo-R (to collect and return a sample from a near-Earth asteroid)
  4. STE-Quest (Space-Time Explorer and QUantum Equivalence principle Space Test).

* In February 2014 Plato mission was selected by ESA’s Science Programme Committee for implementation as part of its Cosmic Vision 2015–25 Programme.


Did you know?

* Other interesting European future space missions include Solar Orbiter which will study the Sun and solar wind from a distance of less than 50 million km and Euclid will focus on dark matter, dark energy and the structure of the Universe.


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Plato Spacecraft Links:

ESA Science & Technology: PLATO

ESA Selects Planet-hunting PLATO mission: ESA – 24 February 2014


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