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The European PLATO mission (PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars) will follow in the footsteps of two precursor space missions: the European CoRoT mission, for which CNES was prime contractor, and NASA’s Kepler mission. It will use the proven transit technique to detect planets and asteroseismology to probe the inner workings of stars. A key feature of the mission is that the PLATO satellite will observe hundreds of thousands of very bright stars with a degree of precision never yet seen.
Its observations will enable scientists to precisely determine the orbit of planets around their star, the age of star-planet systems, the structure and composition of rocky, gaseous or ocean exoplanets, and establish whether they have an atmosphere. Such knowledge will be vital to identify target planets for more detailed characterization including spectroscopic scanning for biomarkers in the nearest habitable exoplanets.
PLATO will be launched by Soyuz from Kourou in 2024 to the second Lagrange point (L2) 1.5 million kilometres from Earth in the direction away from the Sun. It will be carrying 34 telescopes operating in the visible spectrum. Several French research laboratories at the CNRS/INSU institute for Universe sciences and CEA, the French atomic energy and alternative energies commission, are contributing with CNES support to development of the payload and preparations for processing of data from the mission.