Europe’s Euclid mission to blast off on 1 July with help from SpaceX

22 Jun 2023

Impression of Euclid mission in orbit. Image: ATG/ESA (CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

More than a decade in the making, Euclid is finally set to head off into space and study the dark matter and dark energy that makes up most of our universe.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has confirmed that it plans to blast off its Euclid mission into space on 1 July to study the last 10bn years of the universe’s evolution.

A back-up date of 2 July has been planned in case of any unforeseen issues with the first launch, which will be aided by Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

The uncrewed Euclid mission is set to begin its celestial journey from Florida’s Cape Canaveral towards the Earth-Sun Lagrange Point 2, where the James Webb telescope is also located. This point will protect the telescope from light and heat emanated from the Sun and the Earth.

From this point, the Euclid mission will be able to observe one-third of the sky and enable scientists to study billions of years of the universe’s evolution and investigate the nature of dark matter and energy over a six-year operation.

While both dark energy and dark matter – estimated to account for 95pc of the universe – are invisible, astronomers have been able to infer their existence by measuring their influence on the behaviour of stars and galaxies.

“We are there, after 12 years of technical development and scientific preparation, and we now are moving to the second phase of the mission that will tell us what is the very nature of dark energy,” said Yannick Mellier, Euclid’s consortium lead.

Mellier, who is an astrophysicist at the Institut d’astrophysique de Paris, told the consortium earlier this month that the mission will allow scientists to reconstruct the history of the 13.8-billion-year-old universe via “slices of time”.

Euclid will take images in optical and near-infrared light covering parts of the universe beyond our Milky Way galaxy. The high-quality images will depict billions of cosmic targets out to a distance where light has taken up to 10bn years to reach us.

“Euclid has the resolving power of the Hubble space telescope but will be able to survey a third of the night sky at the same time, so it will give us an incredibly detailed map of the heavens,” astronomer Dr Stephen Wilkins from the University of Sussex told The Guardian.

The launch scheduled for next week will be possible because of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which recently launched 56 Starlink satellites into orbit, boosting its satellite internet service. On 2 March, NASA and SpaceX confirmed the Crew-6 mission successfully reached orbit, carrying four astronauts to the International Space Station.

The Crew-6 mission was originally scheduled for 27 February but had to be called off two minutes before the launch due to a ground systems issue relating to ignition.

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Impression of Euclid mission in orbit. Image: ATG/ESA (CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic