Euclid dark universe satellite
An illustration of ESA's Euclid space telescope, which will launch on a Ariane 6 or Soyuz rocket. Credit: ESA/C. Carreau

HELSINKI – Arianespace and the European Space Agency announced the signing of a contract Tuesday for launch of the Euclid dark universe exploration mission.

Euclid will be compatible with both the Ariane 62 and Soyuz launchers with a timeframe for liftoff from Kourou spaceport, French Guiana, starting in mid-2022.

The 2,160-kilogram Euclid satellite will be sent to Sun-Earth Lagrange Point 2, which is on average 1.5 million kilometers beyond Earth’s orbit. 

From here Euclid will study galaxies at various distances from Earth to study the evolution of the Universe over the past 10 billion years. It will also observe the distortion of images of galaxies, an effect called gravitational lensing, in order to infer the presence of dark matter.

It will operate in visible and near infrared wavelengths and target an area covering more than 35 percent of the celestial sphere.

“Euclid will scrutinize the very nature of our Universe, shedding light on its dark side – the mysterious dark matter and dark energy,” Günther Hasinger, ESA’s Director of Science and Exploration, was quoted as saying in an Arianespace press release

Euclid is a medium-class astronomy and astrophysics space mission selected in 2011 as part of ESA’s Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 scientific program. A consortium of nearly 1,000 scientists was formed to take responsibility for the scientific instruments and data production.

Thales Alenia Space is the prime contractor for Euclid and is also responsible for construction of its service module. Airbus Defence and Space is providing the payload module, including the telescope.

Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israël said in a press release that Arianespace is “proud to start 2020 by announcing a new iconic scientific launch for the European Space Agency”. 

“With the goal of better understanding our Universe, launching this mission aboard an Ariane 62 or Soyuz is further proof of Arianespace’s ability to offer independent access to space for Europe’s ambitions,” Israël added.

Six months ago ESA picked Arianespace to launch the JUpiter ICy moon Explorer (JUICE) aboard the Ariane 64, the inaugural flight of the Ariane 6 with four P120 solid rocket boosters. 

Ariane 6 is to have its inaugural mission in 2020. The 3.6-billion-euro Ariane 6 program is planned to succeed the Ariane 5 heavy-lift rocket while costing around half as much to produce.

The Ariane 6 uses two or four P120 solid rocket boosters, depending on mission requirements.

Andrew Jones covers China's space industry for GBTIMES and SpaceNews. He is based in Helsinki, Finland.