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Schematic figure of one of the cameras of the PLATO spacecraft. Credit: PLATO Mission Consortium

The key scientific requirement to detect and characterise a large number of terrestrial planets around bright stars determined the design of PLATO's payload module. The module provides a wide field-of-view (FoV) to maximise the number of the sparsely distributed bright stars in the sky with one pointing, and allows the satellite to cover a large part of the sky. In addition, it provides the required photometric accuracy to detect Earth-sized planets and a high photometric dynamic range, allowing astronomers to observe bright stars (mV < 11) as well as fainter stars down to V-magnitude of 16. This performance is achieved by a multi-telescope instrument concept, which is novel for a space telescope.

The payload consists of 24 'normal' cameras with CCD-based focal planes, operating in white light. They will be read out with a cadence of 25 s and will monitor stars with mV > 8. Two additional 'fast' cameras with high read-out cadence (2.5 s) will be used for stars with mV ~4–8.  The 'normal' cameras are arranged in four groups of six. Each group has the same field-of-view but is offset by a 9.2° angle from the payload module +Z axis, allowing astronomers to survey a total field of about 2250 deg² per pointing, but with different sensitivities over the field.

The ensemble of instruments is mounted on an optical bench. The cameras are based on a fully dioptric design with 6 lenses. Each camera has an 1100 deg² field-of-view and a pupil diameter of 120 mm and is equipped with a focal plane array of 4 CCDs each with 4510×4510 pixels of 18 μm size, working in full frame mode for the 'normal' camera and in frame transfer mode for the 'fast' cameras.

Contributions to the Payload

Principal Investigator DLR, Germany
PMC management
System engineering
Performance monitoring & assessment
Data Processing System
Fast Electronics Unit including Fine Guidance System
Telescope Optical Units thermal hardware
Front-end Electronics of the fast telescopes
DLR, Germany
Telescope Optical Units
Instrument Control Unit
ASI, Italy
Focal Plane Assemblies
Main Electronic Unit
Contribution to camera integration, testing and calibration
Software data processing for the normal telescopes
Contribution to Fast Front-End Electronics
Contribution to camera integration, testing and calibration
CNES, France
Optical Ground Support Equipment
Multilayer Insulation
FCT, Portugal
Front-End Electronics of the normal telescopes UK Space Agency
Contribution to camera integration, testing and calibration SRON, The Netherlands
Contribution to the Broadband Filtering Coating of the fast telescopes SNSB, Sweden
Router and Data Compression Unit in the Instrument Control Unit
On-board data compression algorithms
AASA/FFG, Austria
Camera integration, testing and calibration Belgian Federal Science Policy Office
Telescope Optical Units mechanical structure Swiss Space Office
Ancillary Electronic Units
Central Part Procurement Agency (CPPA)
Last Update: 1 September 2019
22-Jan-2022 02:26 UT

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