PLATO is a next generation ESA space mission concept with the goal to perform ultra-high precision photometry of 100,000s of stars to detect planetary transits and to perform asteroseismology. It will provide important and new insight into the statistics and evolution of exoplanetary systems, as well as stellar structure and evolution through the simultaneous long-term measurement of exoplanets and their host-stars. In particular due to the huge number of monitored stars (about 100,000 stars brighter than mv=11), PLATO will be a logical successor to present and near-future space missions such as MOST, CoRoT, and Kepler (to be launched in 2009). It will enable us to completely characterize the planet-hosting stars through asteroseismology and to accurately measure stellar and planetary radii, masses and ages.
PLATO is scheduled for launch in 2018 and will be stationed in the Lagrange point L2 at a distance of 1.5 million km from Earth. The mission will consist of 3 years of continuous monitoring of a first single stellar field and subsequent shorter runs of two years and step-and-stare phases of 3 months each. The duty cycle will be extremely high at more than 95%, permitting essentially uninterrupted monitoring of the targets.
The present mission concept foresees a total of 42 telescopes, each having a pupil size of about 12 cm. To cover a huge field of view of 28 degrees, the telescopes are organized in four groups of 10 telescopes, with each group targeting a different section of the sky. Two telescopes will be equipped with specially designed photometric filters to assist stellar modeling by providing mode identification for hundreds of very bright and nearby stars (mV=4-8).
Presently, PLATO is in the assessment study phase. In October 2009 decision will be made if this project will receive funding for a Phase A ESA study. Several consortia have been created that deal with the different aspects of the assessment study.
These are in particular the
- Payload Consortium
- Science Consortium
- Ground Based Data Processing Consortium
- On-board Data Processing Consortium
We are responsible for the following topics:
- Design of the focal plane: two telescopes will operate in a faster cadence to enable asteroseismology research, and will provide depointing to the attitude control loop of the spacecraft. Both aims put stringent requirements on the fast telescopes. Accurate modeling and testing of the CCDs will enable us to characterize and optimize the focal plane assembly to ensure these requirements are met.
- End-to-end simulator: Together with the Institute of Astronomy in Aarhus, Denmark, we are working on a software package that simulates the noise properties of the telescopes and CCDs. Moreover, normal and stochastic oscillations as well as planetary transits will be simulated to assist the design of the instruments as well to test the on-board data processing software.
- Definition of the transmission curve of the PLATO photometric filters: Two telescopes of PLATO will be used to determine the pulsational harmonic degree, l, through photometric mode identification. Pinpointing this parameter will enable the successful application of asteroseismology for hundreds of stars. We will be running extensive simulations to determine the optimal two filters for kappa-driven pulsators across the HR-diagram.
Asteroseismology in Belgium:
Belgian Asteroseismology Group