The European Space Agency (ESA) has given the green light to the Euclid mission to explore the 'dark' side of the Universe.
Euclid, which will explore dark energy and dark matter, was given final approval from the ESA Science Programme Committee to move into the full construction phase with a planned launch in 2020.
“This formal adoption of the mission is a major milestone for a large scientific community, their funding agencies and also for European industry,” said Alvaro Giménez Cañete, ESA’s Director of Science and Robotic Exploration.
Euclid was selected alongside Solar Orbiter last October as one of the first two medium-class missions of the Cosmic Vision 2015–25 plan.
Member states of the ESA will fund the development of Euclid’s two scientific instruments, a visible-wavelength camera and a near-infrared camera/spectrometer, and the large distributed processing system needed to analyse the data they produce.
US space agency NASA will provide infrared detectors.
Nearly 1000 scientists from 100 institutes form the Euclid Consortium building the instruments and participating in the scientific harvest of the mission.
“It took a lot of hard work to get this far, but we now have a solid blueprint for a feasible space telescope which enables very accurate measurements that will bring to light the nature of dark energy,” said Yannick Mellier, the Euclid Consortium lead.
Industry will be asked to bid to supply spacecraft hardware, such as the telescope, power systems, attitude and orbit controls, and communications systems, with Europe's two big space companies Astrium and Thales Alenia Space certain to bid.
Euclid will use a 1.2-m diameter telescope and the two instruments to map the 3D distribution of up to two billion galaxies and dark matter associated with them, spread over more than one third of the whole sky.
Stretched across ten billion light-years, the mission will plot the evolution of the Universe’s structure over three-quarters of its history.
Euclid is optimised to answer one of the most important questions in modern cosmology: why is the Universe expanding at an accelerating rate, rather than slowing down due to the gravitational attraction of all the matter in it?
Although the discovery of this cosmic acceleration in 1998 was rewarded with the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2011, scientists are yet to discover what causes it.
The term ‘dark energy’ is often used to signify this mysterious force, but by using Euclid to study its effects on the galaxies and clusters of galaxies across the Universe, astronomers hope to come much closer to understanding its true nature and influence.
“Euclid addresses the cosmology-themed questions of ESA’s Cosmic Vision and it’s fantastic that we are moving forward into the next stage of development – we’re one step closer to learning more about the Universe’s darkest secrets,” said René Laureijs, ESA’s Euclid project scientist.