ESA formally adopts Ariel, the exoplanet explorer
2020-11-13 11:50:00
The European Space Agency (ESA) has formally adopted the mission Ariel into the program of future missions for implementation.

Ariel will be the first mission dedicated to study the nature, formation and evolution of a large and assorted sample of planets around different types of stars in our galaxy.

It will survey about 1000 exoplanets outside our Solar System during its lifetime.

The Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia (IEEC) is one of the co-Principal Investigator institutes and leads the Spanish contribution.

More than 50 institutes from 17 countries have been working over the past 5 years to develop the science goals and design the instrumentation which will enable the Ariel mission to survey a diverse sample of around 1000 planets outside our own solar system.
The mission has passed a rigorous set of reviews, which have been undergoing throughout 2020, to prove the technical feasibility and science case. It has now received approval from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) member states, confirming that the team can work towards a launch in 2029.

Professor Giovanna Tinetti, Ariel’s Principal Investigator (PI) from University College London, said, “We are the first generation capable of studying planets around other stars. Ariel — she added — will seize this unique opportunity and reveal the nature and history of hundreds of diverse worlds in our galaxy. We can now embark on the next stage of our work to make this mission a reality.”
Ariel will be the first mission dedicated to measuring the chemical composition and atmospheric thermal properties of hundreds of transiting exoplanets. The mission will give us a picture of a diverse range of exoplanets: from extremely hot to temperate, from gaseous to rocky planets orbiting close to their parent stars.
By looking specifically at hot planets, scientists are expecting to build an understanding of the formation of planets and their evolution. At hotter temperature, which in some cases it can be more than 2000 ºC, a greater number of exotic molecules will be visible to Ariel. The instruments will then be able to determine what the atmospheres are made up of and provide scientists a unique insight into the planet’s internal composition and the formation history of the planetary system.
The Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia (IEEC — Institut d’Estudis Espacials de Catalunya) is one of the co-PI institutes of the mission and leads the Spanish contribution, which also includes the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias and the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid. IEEC participates in several aspects of Ariel. Dr. José María Gómez, researcher from IEEC at the Institute of Cosmos Science (ICC-UB), explained: “We lead the mission planning task by using IEEC’s expertise on scheduling techniques to optimize operations and study the impact of mission design requirements. Also, we are responsible for the design of the Telescope Control Unit (which monitors the telescope sensors and operates the secondary mirror) and for the design and manufacturing of the mechanisms of the secondary mirror refocusing system, which we are doing in collaboration with SENER Aeroespacial.” From the scientific point of view, Dr. Ignasi Ribas, Director of IEEC and researcher at the Institute of Space Science (ICE-CSIC) commented: “We study the effects of stellar activity on transit spectroscopy, due to the variability caused by starspots, and we participate in the selection of the target sample.”
The Ariel team is taking a very open approach providing rapid access to data and even encouraging enthusiasts to help select targets and characterise stars. Much of the data will be available to both the science community and general public immediately.
“Ariel will enable planetary science far beyond the boundaries of our own Solar System,” says Günther Hasinger, ESA’s Director of Science. “The adoption of Ariel cements ESA’s commitment to exoplanet research and will ensure European astronomers are at the forefront of this revolutionary field for the next decade and well beyond.”
Ariel will have a meter-class telescope primary mirror to collect visible and infrared light from distant star systems. An infrared spectrometer will spread the light into a “rainbow” and extract the chemical fingerprints of gases in the planets’ atmospheres, which become embedded in starlight when a planet passes in front or behind the star. A photometer, a spectrometer and guidance system will capture information on the presence of clouds in the atmospheres of the exoplanets and will allow the spacecraft to point to the target star with high stability and precision.
You can read ESA’s press release here.
Ariel mission consortium

The Ariel mission consortium teams from across Europe will now move on to build and prototype their designs for the payload of Ariel and plan for receiving and processing the data. The industrial contractor for the spacecraft bus, which will support the payload coming from the nationally funded consortium teams, will be selected in the Summer 2021.
The Ariel mission payload is developed by a consortium of more than 50 institutes from 17 ESA countries – which include the UK, France, Italy, Poland, Belgium, Spain, the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, Ireland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Portugal, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Estonia – plus a NASA contribution.

- Ariel mission
- Ariel YouTube channel
More information
The Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia (IEEC  — Institut d’Estudis Espacials de Catalunya) promotes and coordinates space research and technology development in Catalonia for the benefit of society. IEEC fosters collaborations both locally and worldwide and is an efficient agent of knowledge, innovation and technology transfer. As a result of over 20 years of high-quality research, done in collaboration with major international organisations, IEEC ranks among the best international research centers, focusing on areas such as: astrophysics, cosmology, planetary science, and Earth Observation. IEEC’s engineering division develops instrumentation for ground- and space-based projects, and has extensive experience in working with private or public organisations from the aerospace and other innovation sectors. 
IEEC is a private non-profit foundation, governed by a Board of Trustees composed of Generalitat de Catalunya and four other institutions that each have a research unit, which together constitute the core of IEEC R&D activity: the University of Barcelona (UB) with the research unit ICCUB — Institute of Cosmos Sciences; the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) with the research unit CERES — Center of Space Studies and Research; the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC) with the research unit CTE — Research Group in Space Sciences and Technologies; the Spanish Research Council (CSIC) with the research unit ICE — Institute of Space Sciences. IEEC is integrated in the CERCA network (Centres de Recerca de Catalunya).


PR_Image1 Ariel ubication
Caption: Ariel will be placed in orbit around the Lagrange Point 2 (L2), a gravitational balance point 1.5 million kilometres beyond the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. 
Credit: ESA/STFC RAL Space/UCL/Europlanet-Science Office

PR_Image2 Ariel
Caption: Artist’s impression of Ariel. 
Credit: ESA/STFC RAL Space/UCL/UK Space Agency/ATG Medialab
IEEC Communication Office
Barcelona, Spain

Ana Montaner and Rosa Rodríguez
Lead Researcher at IEEC
Barcelona, Spain

Ignasi Ribas
Institute of Space Sciences (ICE-CSIC)
Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia (IEEC)
Jose María Gómez
Institute of Cosmos Sciences (ICC-UB)
Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia (IEEC)
Attached Documents
Generalitat de CatalunyaUniversitat de BarcelonaUniversitat Autònoma de BarcelonaUniversitat Politècnica de CatalunyaConsejo Superior de Investigaciones CientíficasCentres de Recerca de Catalunya