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PLATO (PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars), the third medium-class mission (M3) in ESA's Cosmic Vision programme, will characterise exoplanetary systems by detecting planetary transits and conducting asteroseismology of their parent stars.
The current mission scenario is to launch PLATO using a Soyuz-Fregat 2-1b vehicle (ST fairing), with direct insertion into an orbit around the second Lagrange point (L2) of the Sun-Earth system. For this type of orbit, the launcher has a capability of just over 2100 kg.
The selected orbit at L2 is a large-amplitude (500 000 × 400 000 km) free-insertion Lissajous type. L2 has been chosen for its stable ambient environment in terms of temperature and radiation and the possibility of eclipse-free orbits with an unobstructed view of large parts of the sky (the Sun, Earth and Moon are all located in a relatively small solid angle, viewed from the spacecraft). Once in orbit the PLATO spacecraft will be periodically rotated around its pointing axis in order to keep the sunshield facing towards the Sun. Orbit control manoeuvres will be performed once per month.
The mission will have a nominal lifetime of six years, divided into three phases. The first two phases will be used for long-duration observations, with each observation focusing on a part of the sky that is expected to contain a high density of cool dwarf stars. One of these sky fields is likely to be around ecliptic longitude (λ) of
The ground segment of PLATO will be composed of three elements:
Communication with the PLATO spacecraft will be performed in the X-band, using the 35-metre antenna at New Norcia, in Western Australia. The daily telecommanding and communications period is 4 hours. The rest of the day the spacecraft will operate autonomously, without ground contact.