The LISA trio of satellites to detect gravitational waves from space has been selected as the third large-class mission in ESA’s Cosmic Vision Science program, while the Plato exoplanet hunter moves into development. These milestones were decided upon during a meeting of ESA’s Science Program Committee on June 20, and ensure the continuation of ESA’s Cosmic Vision plan through the next two decades.

LISA has a tumultuous history. The program was once considered a favorite to get a launch slot under ESA’s Cosmic Vision science program. However, as budgets declined at ESA and its partners, LISA was passed over in favor of the Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE) mission for a 2022 launch slot, after the agency found that mission to be the most cost-effective and least risky.

With the success of the JUICE mission, it appeared that LISA would not continue. However, the success of other missions to detect gravitational waves, including the LISA Pathfinder, changed mission planners’ minds. Following selection, the mission design and costing can be completed. Then it will be proposed for ‘adoption’ before construction begins. Launch is expected in 2034.

In the same meeting Plato – Planetary Transits and Oscillations of stars – has now been adopted in the Science Program, following its selection in February 2014.

This means it can move from a blueprint into construction. In the coming months industry will be asked to make bids to supply the spacecraft platform.

Following its launch in 2026, Plato will monitor thousands of bright stars over a large area of the sky, searching for tiny, regular dips in brightness as their planets cross in front of them, temporarily blocking out a small fraction of the starlight.

Image Source: ESA