British imaging solutions company e2v said Oct. 21 it was awarded a European Space Agency (ESA) contract worth up to 2.25 million euros ($3.12 million) to develop image sensors for Plato, a planet-hunting space telescope competing for funding.

Plato — short for Planetary Transits and Oscillations of Stars — is one of three space science missions competing for two launch opportunities under ESA’s Cosmic Vision program. ESA is expected to pick two missions proposals in June 2011 to proceed into implementation for launch in 2018. The other two candidates are Solar Orbiter and Euclid, a dark-energy mapper that also would fly sensors under development at e2v under a separate 2 million euro contact announced Oct. 11.

Company spokeswoman Jessica Broom said e2v is developing imaging sensors for Plato with the aim of delivering 10 in early 2012, when the second phase of the contract is slated to end. If Plato is not selected for Cosmic Vision next summer, however, the contract would be terminated at the end of phase one, Broom said.

The Plato mission aims to detect planets as they transit their host star. The Plato satellite would be equipped with up to 34 mini-telescopes, each containing four large back-illuminated charge-coupled devices. Once launched, the satellite would orbit the sun 1.5 million kilometers beyond Earth for six to eight years, surveying at least 40 percent of the sky.