UK Takes Lead in Exoplanet Mission with £30 Million Investment

Artist impression of ESA’s Ariel exoplanet satellite. (Credit: Airbus)

SWINDON, UK (UK Space Agency PR) — The UK Government will invest £30 million to secure the UK’s leading role in developing a space telescope to explore exoplanets.

Due to launch in 2029, Ariel’s mission is to understand the links between a planet’s chemistry, its evolution and its host star, by characterising the atmospheres of 1,000 known planets outside our solar system.

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UK Leads New European Exoplanet Mission

Artist impression of an exoplanet system. (Credit: ESA)

PARIS (ESA PR) — The UK has secured a leading role in the development of a space telescope that will probe the atmospheres of distant worlds.

The mission – called Ariel – will study the gases that enshroud some 1000 extrasolar planets to address fundamental questions about how they formed and evolved.  

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Comet Chaser Mission Moves From Blueprint to Reality

Artist’s impression of Comet Interceptor mission. (Credit: Geraint Jones, UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory)

MADRID, Spain (ESA PR) — A new European Space Agency science mission, proposed by the UK, to 3D-map a comet for the first time has reached a major milestone.

The Comet Interceptor mission was formally adopted by the European Space Agency (ESA) at a meeting in Madrid today (Wednesday, 8 June 2022), moving from the design phase to implementation, with the next step to select a contractor to build the spacecraft and a robotic probe.

Due for launch in 2029, it will see one main spacecraft and two robotic probes – the other built by the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) – travel to an as-yet unidentified comet and map it in three dimensions.

Caroline Harper, Head of Space Science at the UK Space Agency, said:

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CIRCE Space Weather Suite Announced for First UK Satellite Launch

CIRCE CAD models courtesy of Blue Canyon Technologies.

Dstl’s miniaturised space weather instrumentation suite will be aboard Virgin Orbit which is aiming to launch from Spaceport Cornwall later in 2022.

LONDON (Dstl PR) — The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory’s (Dstl) miniaturised space weather instrumentation suite will be one of the payloads aboard Virgin Orbit which is targeting the first UK satellite launch this summer from Spaceport Cornwall in Newquay. Virgin Orbit’s Launcher One rocket takes off horizontally, carried aloft by a modified Boeing 747 jet, named Cosmic Girl.

The Coordinated Ionospheric Reconstruction Cubesat Experiment (CIRCE) satellite mission comprises two 6U cube-satellites that will be launched into a near-polar low Earth orbit in a string-of-pearls configuration (targeting 555 kilometres altitude). Each 6U satellite bus measures 10cm by 20cm by 30cm (the size of a cereal box), and will fly almost identical instrument capability on both satellites. Dstl is partnering with the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) on the joint mission.

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Artificial Intelligence Behind 21st Century Spaceflight

Credit: ESA
  • Maintaining safety of operations and maximising scientific return are key concerns as satellites increase in number and complexity
  • Artificial intelligence offers promising solutions to modern spaceflight challenges
  • ESA and Germany’s DFKI institute have launched a new lab ‘ESA_Lab@DFKI’ for artificial intelligence research

KAISERLAUTERN, Germany (ESA PR) — It’s 4 October 1957, and the Soviet Union has just lofted humanity’s first satellite – Sputnik 1 – into the pristine orbital environment around Earth, marking the start of the Space Age.

Throughout 1960s and 70s, launches quickly increase, as the USA, Soviet Union and other countries race for space, discovering and utilising the immense value of the ‘orbital pathways’ above us – a precious, limited natural resource.

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Big Research with Small Satellites

Artist’s impression of the SOMP2b satellite. (Credit: TU Dresden/Tino Schmiel)
  • On January 24, 2021, the SOMP2b small satellite was launched into space with a Falcon 9 rocket at 4:00 p.m. Central European Time.
  • A key objective of the mission is to demonstrate that significant research can be done with small satellites.
  • The special thing about SOMP2b is its innovative design: almost all functions of a satellite have been miniaturized and built into each individual side wall.

+++ The SOMP2b satellite launched into space on January 24, 2021 on board a Falcon 9 rocket +++

COLOGNE (DLR PR) — On January 24, 2021, the SOMP2b small satellite is scheduled to launch at 4 p.m. Central European Time (10 a.m. local time) with a Falcon 9 rocket from the Cape Canaveral spaceport in Florida (USA). A key objective of the mission is to demonstrate that significant research – both scientific and technological – can be done with small satellites. 

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European ‘Comet Chaser’ Probe to be Designed in UK

Comet Interceptor (Credit: Thales Alenia Space)

SWINDON, UK (UK Space Agency PR) — Design work will soon begin in the UK on the spacecraft for a new European Space Agency science mission, which will 3D-map a comet for the first time,

Thales Alenia Space, who have three sites in the UK and employ nearly 200 highly skilled engineers and scientists, have won one of two parallel mission study contracts for the design concept of the mothership and a smaller robotic probe for the European Space Agency (ESA) Comet Interceptor mission. Design work is also taking place in Italy.

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Government Funds UK Companies at the Forefront of Space Innovation

21 UK organisations have been awarded a share of over £7 million of funding to put the UK at the forefront of the latest advances in space innovation

SWINDON, UK (UK Space Agency PR) — The cash injection is going to high-risk, high-reward projects that support companies and universities with radical ideas for how we tackle climate change through Earth Observation or address satellite communications challenges, from providing greater connectivity to remote places to increasing the efficiency of our homes.

Projects set for the cash boost include The Open University who will use the money to create the UK’s first Precision Forestry tool, TreeView, which will support efforts to tackle the climate emergency through detailed measurement of tree-planting initiatives aimed at increasing carbon dioxide removal.

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Asteroid Impact, not Volcanic Eruptions, Killed the Dinosaurs

Nannoplankton fossils next to a deep-sea sediment section drilled from the North Atlantic. (Credit: Professor Paul Bown)

LONDON (University College London PR) — Volcanic activity did not play a direct role in the mass extinction event that killed the dinosaurs and about 75 per cent of Earth’s species 66 million years ago, according to a team involving UCL and University of Southampton researchers.

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UK Team to Lead European Mission to Study New Planets

ARIEL spacecraft (Credit: ESA/STFC RAL Space/UCL/Europlanet-Science Office)

SWINDON, England (UKSA PR) — A multi-million pound European mission to study newly discovered planets will be led by University College London, supported by investment from the UK Space Agency.

The ARIEL (Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey) mission was selected today as the next European Space Agency (ESA) science mission, putting UK leadership at the heart of research into planets that lie outside our solar system – exoplanets.

Thousands of exoplanets have now been discovered with a huge diversity of masses, sizes and orbits, but very little is known about their chemical composition, formation, or their evolutionary links to their host stars.

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