The European Space Agency (ESA) has awarded Teledyne e2v a 42 million euro contract to produce high-end Charge Coupled Device (CCD) visible-light detectors for the PLATO (Planetary Transits and Oscillations of stars) mission. PLATO is a planet-hunting spacecraft capable of discovering and characterising Earth-like exoplanets around nearby Sun-like stars. Its instrumentation consists of 26 telescopes mounted on a single satellite platform, reminiscent of the compound eye of an insect. These 26 telescopes make it possible to gaze at vast areas of sky at the same time. They will each be supplied with four Teledyne e2v CCDs and will enable PLATO to observe the dimming of a star’s light when a planet passes in front of it, to find habitable worlds and potential Earth twins.
After a three year definition phase following the mission's selection in 2014, PLATO is now ready for implementation towards launch at the end of 2026. During its lifetime of at least four years, the spacecraft will search for planets around hundreds of thousands of stars and precisely measure the size, mass and age of planets in thousands of planetary systems.
To date, astronomers know of several thousand exoplanets orbiting distant stars. Many of them were discovered by the Kepler and CoRoT space missions, which were also equipped with Teledyne e2v’s CCD detectors. PLATO will survey a large area of the sky and study the full diversity of stars and planetary systems across our galactic neighbourhood.
“This contract is the result of the long-standing, strong relationship between Teledyne e2v, ESA and the PLATO science community, and that has lead to the design and validation of these outstanding visible-light CCDs devices right at the leading edge of CCD technology. We are excited to think that our PLATO CCDs could allow mankind to see our future second home with core technology from the UK. The PLATO contract follows our successful involvement in the ESA GAIA, CNES CoRoT, and NASA Kepler missions. Our sister company Teledyne Imaging Sensors in California will also supply high end infrared sensors for the NASA WFIRST mission. This makes the Teledyne group a key figure in all major worldwide exoplanetary missions, for which it supplies sensors covering the spectrum from X-ray to infrared,” said Giuseppe Borghi, VP of Business Development at Teledyne e2v.
“PLATO continues a European tradition of excellence in all areas of astronautics and space science”, said Filippo Marliani, Project Manager of PLATO at ESA. “PLATO will surpass its predecessors and build on their success to serve as an outstanding tool for the science community to make further exciting discoveries and gather invaluable knowledge of planets in our galaxy, beyond our own solar system.”
The PLATO CCDs will count 20 Mpixel each and will come in both Full-Frame and Frame-Transfer variants. Each telescope will therefore comprise about 80 Mpixels, for a full satellite total of 2.12 Gpixels. This is over twice the equivalent number for GAIA, the previous largest camera in space. The PLATO CCD detectors are designed and produced in Chelmsford (UK).