It will investigate the planets' atmospheres and how their host stars affect them in order to determine their overall composition. This way, scientists will be able to learn more about how planets formed and what role the stars play in their evolution.
These findings could help researchers better understand how our Solar System formed. Not only that, but they could provide the pathway to finding Earth-like planets in the vastness of space.
As part of the contract, Airbus will manage the construction of the spacecraft, as well as provide assistance to ESA for the design and development of the payload module.
Ariel will be manufactured and integrated at Airbus' Toulouse plant in France. As for the electrical design, avionics, and radiofrequency communication, the company will take care of them at its UK space and defense headquarters in Stevenage.
Once fully assembled, the spacecraft will be ready to embark on a million-mile (1.4-million-km) journey away from Earth, operating from what is known as the second Lagrange point (L2). It will depart our planet aboard an ESA Ariane 6 rocket, and it will initially spend four years hunting exoplanets.
Ariel is the third of ESA's dedicated exoplanet missions. It will come after Cheops, which was already launched in 2019, and Plato, which is set to take off in 2026.