Airbus Awarded Multi-Million Contract to Build an Exoplanet-Hunting Spacecraft for ESA

The European Space Agency (ESA) awarded Airbus a € 200 million ( ~$225 million) contract to design and build a new spacecraft that will search for planets beyond our solar system. Called the Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey, or Ariel for short, the spacecraft is expected to launch in 2029.
Illustration of an exoplanet system 6 photos
Photo: ESA
Illustration of the Ariel spacecraftIllustration of the Ariel spacecraftAriel will study the composition of exoplanetsAriel will study the composition of exoplanetsIllustration of an exoplanet system
Ariel will focus on warm and hot planets, which can range from cosmic objects with Earth-like properties but bigger to gas giants that are located close to the stars. The mission will study around 1,000 planets located beyond our Solar System in both visible and infrared wavelengths. Thanks to its stable thermal and mechanical construction, Ariel will be able to conduct observation of the same exoplanet system for up to three days.

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.
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About the author: Florina Spînu
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Florina taught herself how to drive in a Daewoo Tico (a rebadged Suzuki Alto kei car) but her first "real car" was a VW Golf. When she’s not writing about cars, drones or aircraft, Florina likes to read anything related to space exploration and take pictures in the middle of nature.
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