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Ariel Passes Major Milestone

Ariel, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) next-generation mission to observe the chemical make-up of distant extrasolar planets, has passed a major milestone after successfully completing its Preliminary Design Review (PDR). The successful completion of the PDR marks a crucial step forward for Ariel, demonstrating that the mission’s payload design meets all the required technical and scientific specifications, and no showstoppers were found for the foreseen launch in 2029.

Ariel is due for launch in 2028 and during it’s 4-year mission it will observe 1000 planets orbiting distant stars in visible and infrared wavelengths to study how they formed and how they evolve. It is the first mission dedicated to measuring the chemistry and thermal structures of exoplanet atmospheres, enabling planetary science far beyond the boundaries of the Solar System. Prof Tom Ray, Director of Cosmic Physics at Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) is an Ariel Co-Principal Investigator. He says “we are all very excited about Ariel as it will allow us for the first time not just to detect exoplanets but to explore what hundreds of them are made of. In turn we will learn how similar, or very different, our Solar System is.”

Over the course of nine months the Ariel consortium payload team prepared 179 technical documents and addressed 364 questions (RIDs) for a panel of ESA experts, who evaluated the feasibility, performance, and robustness of the payload design. The review scrutinised every aspect of the proposed payload, to ensure that the designed systems meet the technical, scientific, and operational requirements of the mission. In May 2023 the ESA review board accepted that all the objectives had been completed, and confirmed the successful closure of the Ariel payload PDR.  

As a result of this major achievement, Ariel’s payload critical technology is now considered at Technical Readiness Level 6, indicating that the mission can now proceed to payload CDR (Critical Design Review) and begin to manufacture its first models.

Paul Eccleston, Ariel Consortium Manager and Chief Engineer at RAL Space, is very pleased with the outcome and has thanked the international payload team engineers “for the enormous amount of work they’ve put in both before, during and after the payload PDR, especially while also keeping all the consortium work on track and the internal design work to plan.”

The Ariel payload is developed by a consortium of more than 50 institutes from 16 ESA countries – which include the UK, France, Italy, Poland, Belgium, Spain, Austria, Denmark, Hungary, Portugal, Ireland, Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Estonia. Contributions from NASA, JAXA and the Canadian Space Agency have recently been confirmed. Enterprise Ireland (EI) manages Ireland’s industrial and scientific involvement with ESA. Ireland’s participation in Ariel at DIAS is supported by EI.

Read the full press release at arielmission.space!