Bremen, October 4th, 2018. At the International Astronautical Congress(IAC) currently taking place in Bremen, ESA Director General Johann-Dietrich Wörner and OHB Chief Executive Officer Marco Fuchs today signed a contract naming OHB System AG, a subsidiary of listed space and technology company OHB SE, the industrial principal contractor for PLATO (Planetary Transits and Oscillations of Stars), the next major scientific research mission. The contract value is EUR 288 million. The European Space Agency (ESA) wants to launch the PLATO space observatory in 2026 to detect and study exoplanets1) that are orbiting other stars.
The contract covers the delivery of the 2-tonne satellite including the necessary pre-launch testing and support by OHB staff during the launch campaign and the start-up phase in orbit.
“Does a second Earth exist in the Universe? is one of the exciting questions in astrophysics today,” says Johann-Dietrich Wörner, Director General of ESA. “With our Plato satellite we are focusing on Earth-like planets orbiting up to the habitable zone around others stars which are similar to our Sun. This will be a major step towards finding another Earth.”
“I am thrilled by the trust that has been placed in us”, says OHB Chief Executive Officer Marco Fuchs. “This is our first contract for the development and assembly of a complete research satellite for ESA. The plans that we worked on with our core team partners Thales and RUAG Space were evidently convincing. I am quite certain that we will also live up to expectations during the implementation phase particularly because our companies have been working together in a spirit of mutual trust for many years.”
As the principal contractor, OHB System AG will be able to rely on an existing core team comprising Thales Alenia Space (France and the UK) and RUAG Space to engineer and assemble the satellite. The corresponding contracts were signed with these two partners today. Core team partner Thales Alenia Space, France, is responsible for avionics, i.e. the on-board handling of data as well as satellite positioning and orbit control. Under the relevant contract, Thales Alenia Space in England will be integrating and testing the satellite platform. RUAG Space was today awarded a contract by OHB to design and manufacture the optical bench, which forms the “basis” for the integration of the optical payload, namely 26 roughly knee-high cameras, which are being developed and assembled by the PLATO Mission Consortium, a federation of various European research centers and institutes under the lead of the German Aerospace Center (DLR). DLR had decided back in June 2014 to contract OHB System AG for engineering and management tasks for the PLATO payload design and for the coordination of the consortium. The cameras will be integrated at the OHB Space Center “Optics & Science” in Oberpfaffenhofen near Munich in a special ISO Class 5 clean room. Alongside the core team partners, many small and mid-size companies from ESA member countries will also be contributing to the completion of the PLATO satellite.
Tracking new worlds - 1.5 million kilometers from Earth
From its target orbit at Lagrange point 2 2) the PLATO observatory will be advancing exoplanetary science by detecting and also studying extrasolar planetary systems. PLATO will be providing answers to questions such as: What characteristics do earth-like planets have in the habitable zone of stars? How do they arise and change over time? Is our solar system unique? Could life exist in other solar systems?
In simple terms, this will be achieved by observing with the 26 cameras a wide area of the sky. In this way, the cameras will be able to detect very small and regular light losses that occur when planets fly past the stars and briefly hide part of the starlight. The aim is to achieve extremely precise, long-term and uninterrupted photometric observations of bright stars in the visible range. The main focus will be on exploring the properties of terrestrial planets up to the habitable zone around sun-like stars. PLATO will also be providing information on seismic activity in the stars, which researchers will use as a basis for characterizing the host star and determining its age with greater precision. The study of the stellar seismic activity will also allow scientists to improve their knowledge of the interior of the stars and their theories of stellar evolution.