It sounds like something out of Star Trek: ‘Space, the final frontier...To explore strange new worlds…To boldly go where no man has gone before’.
Yet, in this case, the trek into the outer limits of space is real.
Meet Euclid, the European Space Agency’s deep space probe. This space telescope satellite will have the power to unlock the secrets of the creation and evolution of the universe, by mapping its general structure across 10 billion light years, equivalent to the last three-quarters of its history.
By charting the shapes, positions and movements of two billion galaxies across more than a third of the universe, Euclid will provide astronomers with precious data to infer the presence of ‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy’— the two components which are said to be at the heart of the universe’s structure and expansion since it was created in the Big Bang.
“Euclid will explore the origins of the universe. So scientists are tremendously excited by this extraordinary instrument – and we are just as excited to be creating it,” says Walter Cugno, Vice President, Space and Exploration at Thales Alenia Space.
Thales Alenia Space was named prime contractor for the Euclid satellite because of its experience in precision satellite orbital control and communications over vast distances in space. In the case of Euclid, that means sending back 50 gigabytes of data per day over a distance of 1.5 million kilometres.
Charting deep space to unlock its source
The satellite features a 1.2-metre diameter telescope, a 4.2-metre by 2.5-metre sunshield solar array, a 70-centimetre high-gain antenna and two scientific instruments: a visible-wavelength camera (VIS) and a near-infrared camera/spectrometer (NISP).
“The technology Euclid requires is truly state of the art,” says Walter Cugno, Vice President, Space and Exploration at Thales Alenia Space. “It is very challenging, but we have the experience in orbital control that will provide the precision, stability and performance for the telescope to work. And we have the 360-degree coverage of the skills needed for the satellite and its platform.”
The winning design ensures the quality and stability of the integrated optical system, the speed and completeness of sky surveying, accurate and stable pointing, and the ability to transmit huge volumes of scientific data back to Earth.
The Euclid Consortium brings together scientists from 13 European countries, as well as from the US, through NASA. Thales Alenia Space leads a team of over 120 European companies; its experience in managing other companies for systems integration was another reason for its selection as prime contractor.
Let us go forth and discover new worlds thanks to a mission that is unique in the history of space exploration and that could change how we understand the universe and its origins.