China will search for Earth-like planets with a formation-flying telescope

China will search for Earth-like planets with a formation-flying telescope

HELSINKI – China aims to build a series of telescopes in deep space to search for habitable planets orbiting other stars.

The Miyin project envisages sending four light-gathering telescopes and a beam combiner to the Sun-Earth Lagrange Point 2. Flying in formation, the spacecraft will provide high angular resolution mid-infrared observations using interferometric techniques and directly image exoplanets around stars. 65 light-years away.

The main objective will be to find potentially habitable terrestrial planets orbiting Sun-like stars in our neighborhood in the Milky Way.

The project is still in the development phase, but current plans map to an on-orbit technology demonstration in 2024, followed by interferometry experiments on the Tiangong space station a year later.

An Arena prototype will launch around 2027 before building a five-spacecraft system at L2 in 2030. Four more spacecraft could be added to the array in a second mission phase after 2030.

A previously published journal paper suggests that the telescope and central beam combiner will operate between 40 and 300 meters apart. The array will be capable of a spatial resolution of 0.01 arcsecond for systems up to 20 parsecs away.

The concept was presented at an event to celebrate China’s National Space Day in Hefei, Anhui Province. The event has been held annually since 2016, and was for the anniversary of the launch of the country’s first satellite, Dongfanghong-1, on April 24, 1970.

If approved and deployed, the project would be of great scientific value, according to Sarah Caswell, research fellow and lecturer at the University of Leicester’s School of Physics and Astronomy.

“The proposed spatial resolution of 0.01 arcseconds is comparable to or better than NASA’s proposed Habitable World Observatory, which has a six-meter-diameter mirror and a coronagraph to image exoplanets in the habitable zone of 100 stars within 25 parsecs,” Caswell said. Space News.

Systems with multiple space telescopes have previously been proposed, including NASA’s Terrestrial Planet Finder and ESA’s Darwin concepts. NASA is considering an $11 billion project called the Habitable World Observatory that will begin in 2040 and operate in the ultraviolet, visible and near-infrared bands.

“I think this multi-spacecraft concept is unique among currently planned exoplanet missions, and will be complementary to JWST and Habitable Worlds, which have the same spatial resolution but have a coronagraph or star shade for high-contrast imaging.”

The Miyin mission will also be used to observe other targets such as protoplanetary disks and active galactic nuclei, and a range of celestial objects in our solar system.

The project is a reflection of China’s growing interest in studying exoplanets. The mission design is being led by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). The project, if approved after on-orbit testing, will pose numerous technical challenges surrounding the mission’s construction avionics and interferometry aspects.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences is meanwhile evaluating a pair of proposals for exoplanet-finding space observatory missions under its Strategic Priority Program on Space Science. These are the Closeby Habitable Exoplanet Survey (CHES) and Earth 2.0 (ET) missions.

CHES will use astrometry, a technique similar to that used by ESA’s Gaia star-mapping space telescope, while ET will use the transit method to observe 1.2 million dwarf stars.

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