The Ariel space telescope is being built under a €200 million contract with the European industry.
The observatory will study planets orbiting other stars in order to learn more about how they formed and evolved over time.
The building of Ariel will be led by Airbus, with Ariel expected to be launched in 2029. The project is being led scientifically by the United Kingdom, which will also be responsible for the majority of the hardware assembly.
This decade is shaping up to be a watershed moment in the study of extrasolar planets or exoplanets.
In the coming years, the focus will shift to their characters, with questions about what they’re composed of and how their atmospheres work if they have them.
For example, NASA will launch the $10 billion James Webb infrared space telescope later this month, which will take a close look at tens of exoplanets by imaging them directly and fingerprinting the substances in their atmospheres.
Ariel, which is likewise sensitive to infrared light, will perform a similar task, but for just 1,000 exoplanets.
The European Space Agency member states chose the telescope for development in 2018, and the project has since gone through several feasibility studies.
Ariel will observe how the starlight alters as it travels through the atmosphere of the transiting globe on its approach to the telescope as each target planet passes in front of its home star. Its ambition is to create a vast type catalogue. Astronomers aim to know what’s typical for the various worlds that exist in order to determine what can be considered the standard model for planetary systems as far as possible.
We currently see very few places that resemble our solar system. Airbus, based in Toulouse, France, is in charge of the overall construction of Ariel and will use its Stevenage, United Kingdom, facility for crucial structural and avionics work.
Components will be sourced from across Europe. The mirror system will be difficult to master. This will be entirely made of aluminium and will have to function at extremely low temperatures, as low as -230C (40 kelvin).