CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – A SpaceX rocket launched a new space telescope into orbit Saturday (July 1) on a mission to map the “dark universe” like never before.
The European Space Agency’s Euclid spacecraft blasted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station today at 11:11 a.m. EDT (1511 GMT) aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
Onlookers at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex here cheered as the Falcon 9 booster lifted off Euclid, the first stage touching a nearby drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean eight minutes later.
“We have a mission,” ESA Director General Joseph Aschbacher said during a live webcast shortly after liftoff. “I’m really excited for this mission now, knowing the path it’s taking to Lagrange Point 2… It’s amazing, I’m very happy and very happy.”
“I’m totally addicted, a launch junkie,” joked NASA’s Associate Administrator for Science Nicola Fox at a press conference after Saturday’s (July 1) launch. “It’s a very exciting day when you realize all the work, all the teams, thousands of people put into this work.
The Euclid space probe, designed to search for invisible dark matter and dark energy, separated from its rocket after approximately 41 minutes and is now traveling to the Sun-Earth Lagrange point 2, approximately 1 million miles (1.5). million km) from our planet on the opposite side of the Sun. Lagrange points are relatively stable orbits where satellites use minimal fuel, and Euclid’s target is a popular location: NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope orbits at L2, for example.
Related: We have never seen dark matter and dark energy. Does it really exist?
Revealing the ‘dark universe’
Dark matter and dark energy are believed to make up most of the universe, but we cannot see these phenomena at wavelengths of light. Instead, we can monitor the dark universe through its effects on other objects. (An example of gravitational lensing is when a massive object’s gravity bends light from a distant object back, bringing otherwise distant stars or galaxies into sharp focus.)
Cosmologists—scientists who study the history of space—try to understand how the dark universe works to chart the effects of time on our universe. The connections of galaxies, the expansion of the universe, and the motions of individual stars are all subject to the forces of dark energy and dark matter.
Carol Mundell, ESA’s science director, said at a press conference that one of her priorities was to ensure a robust data archive that would last beyond Euclid’s six years of science.
Calling himself a “guardian” as he takes over as director, he said he congratulates “all of our scientific communities who are working so hard to commission this mission now.”
Euclid aimed his telescope at regions outside our own galaxy, the Milky Way, mapping a third of the “extragalactic” sky. During its six-year mission, the deep space probe will map billions of targets such as galaxies and stars. Euclid’s two instruments, focusing on visible and infrared (seeking heat) wavelengths of light, respectively, will record data for scientists.
A longer survey mission will determine the motions of these distant objects and their chemical makeup. From space, Euclid’s sharp eyes allow for images at least four times clearer than those achieved by telescopes from the ground, because the telescope is far away from Earth’s interfering atmosphere and stray light.
Carol Mundell, ESA’s science director, said the Euclid mission is 15 years old, but she’s still holding her breath for signal acquisition after a pre-launch and spacecraft separation.
“Over the next six years of this mission, we will unravel the mysteries of the dark universe,” Mundell said. “So, it’s a great honor to be here. I think there’s going to be some party tonight.”
Related: Euclid spacecraft will change the way we see the ‘dark universe’.
The 1.4 billion euro ($1.5 billion USD) Euclid has been in the works for nearly two decades. It is fake Two working concepts Proposed in 2007: DUNE (Dark Universe Explorer) and SPACE (Spectroscopic All Sky Cosmic Explorer), which used different but complementary ways to look at dark energy. Given how well the two works complemented each other, they were combined into one powerful laboratory: Euclid.
The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Science Program Committee selected Euclid for space in 2011 and formally adopted the program in 2012. Today the large Euclid consortium includes more than 2,000 scientists from Europe, the United States (including NASA), Canada, and Japan. and analysis. Thales Alenia Space was the prime contractor for the satellite, while Airbus Defense and Space contributed the payload module and the 4-foot (1.2-meter) telescope.
Euclid’s work follows on from many ground-based and space-based studies of the universe. Among them Chile Victor M. Blanco Telescope’s Dark Energy Survey Mapped 100 Million Galaxies; A study on the team’s mission in 2022 will serve as a pathfinder for both Euclid and NASA’s Roman Space Telescope.
Another recent example is ESA’s still-active Gaia satellite (at Lagrange Point 2), which has mapped the motions of nearly 2 billion bright stars since 2015. Gaia, however, focuses on the Milky Way and makes it a subsidiary mission of Euclid. Deep space focus.
Rocket transposition for Euclid
Incidentally, Euclid never launched on SpaceX. Mission revealed in late February 2022, March 2023 in French Guiana on Arianespace Soyuz (supplied by Russia). Russia’s unauthorized invasion of Ukraine pushed Euclid’s team to seek another trip to space, bypassing the International Space Station.
Arianespace has been ESA’s launch partner for decades and, as a French vendor, is the preferred route for European space access. There was still no room in the retiring Ariane 5 rocket line, and the new Ariane 6 was still in late development. Space News reportedwas in the crowd.
Even US options were limited, as United Launch Alliance’s reliable Atlas V and Delta IV heavy rockets had full exposure ahead of retirement. ULA’s new Vulcan Centaur won’t fly until this year, leaving SpaceX as the only viable short-term option, according to ESA comments last year.
To get to its new base, Euclid traveled from Italy to its Floridian launch pad. It took two weeks to cross the Atlantic by boat, but only minutes to cross the same ocean again by rocket.
The Euclid-launched SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket made its second flight into space with this launch. The mission marked SpaceX’s 44th mission of 2023 and 243rd to date. It was SpaceX’s 204th successful landing of an orbit-class rocket.
Euclid takes about 30 days to reach its deepest point. Investigators have yet to release a date for the first science film, but say it could be in a few months.
This story was updated at 2:08 pm EDT with information from the post-publication press conference.
Elizabeth Howell’s Florida coverage was co-sponsored by Canadian Geographic magazine and the University of Waterloo in Canada, where Euclid’s Principal Science Coordinator (Will Percival) is based. Space.com has independent control over news coverage.