UK Space Focuses on Exoplanets with Space Telescope20th Jun 2022
The UK government committed on 17th June to a £30 million investment into developing a space telescope focused on exoplanets. The project, called Ariel, lets researchers study exoplanets in terms of their chemistry, evolution and connections with host stars. In particular, the Ariel telescope enables the study of the atmospheres of 1,000 exoplanets already known to humans. Ariel should launch in 2029.
University College London (UCL) led the consortium of 17 countries in the project proposal. The European Space Agency (ESA) selected the UCL-led proposal out of a field of 26 for its next ‘medium class mission’, a press release from UK Space Agency reads.
The UK assumes responsibility for the science side of the mission. It also helms the consortium in building the mission’s payload module. UK Space Agency notes that this investment is the government’s “first major long-term commitment … to space science” since it published the National Space Strategy in September 2021. The £30 million in promised funding builds on £6 million spent on the study phase, which ended in March 2022.
Besides UCL, UK institutions taking part include Cardiff University, University of Oxford and the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) RAL Space at Harwell Space Cluster in Oxfordshire. They will build space-related items such as the payload module and cryogenic cooler. Earth-side, they will focus on optical ground support equipment as well as services such as science operations and data processing.
Paul Eccleston, Ariel Consortium Programme Manager and Chief Engineer at RAL Space, said:
We welcome the agreement and the commitment from the UK Space Agency to enable this collaboration. I’m delighted that the UK is taking a leading role in the mission and proud of the progress the consortium has already made to design the payload. These ties are only set to strengthen as we progress towards launch.