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Plato, ESA’s planet hunting project, was tested

on 16 March 2021

Key technology for ESA’s exoplanet-hunting Plato spacecraft has passed a trial by vacuum to prove the mission will work as planned. This test replica of an 80-cm high, 12-cm aperture camera spent 17 days inside a thermal vacuum chamber.

Testing at the ESTEC Test Centre in the Netherlands reproduced the telescope’s planned operating environment in deep space, 1.5 million km away from Earth.

Plato (PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars) will have 26 of these cameras pointing at the same target stars. They will acquire images every 25 seconds – every 2.5 seconds for the two central cameras – for at least two years at a time to detect tiny shifts in brightness caused by exoplanets transiting these stars,” explains Yves Levillain, Plato’s Instrument System Engineer.

To reach the high optical precision required, the focal length of each Plato camera will be adjusted through very slight temperature shifts, causing it to expand or shrink. Changing the temperature by just 0.1 °C using a trio of camera heaters will adjust its focusing length by 1 micrometre – a thousandth of a millimetre.

The testing was monitored on a 24 hour seven days per week basis by personnel from ESA’s Plato mission team.

More details at this link.

Image credit: ESA-Matteo Apolloni