Design of a compact Near-Infrared spectrometer payload for a Low Earth-Orbit (LEO) Exo-planet spectroscopy satellite.

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Physics and Astronomy


There are in excess of a thousand confirmed planets to have been detected outside of our solar system. The majority of these have been detected with one of two techniques (radial velocity and photometric transit). These methods of detection allow the recovery of a few basic parameters of the system but do not allow to infer what the chemical composition and basic constituents of the planet are. Most planned satellite missions in the exo-planetary field are committed to increase the number of such detected systems by ten-fold as well as searching for smaller (more distant from the parent-star) planets in an effort to establish how common Earth-like systems are. Spectroscopy of exoplanets remains however a data-starved field due to the lack of dedicated missions which require spectroscopy to be performed in the Near-IR (1-5 microns to hunt for most molecular signatures) in a sufficiently stable environment without contamination from the Earth's atmospheric variability.
For this reason two studies are underway (an ESA M-class proposal and a national small Low Earth Orbit concept) to define the requirements and design in detail a small instrument which could be flown in the early JWST era dedicated to such science case.
The project would (depending on the interest of the student and his capabilities) entail (and is not restrictive to) a number of the following activities:
Definition of instrument parameters for evaluation of design trade-off
Build of simulation tools to predicted the behaviour of specific hardware
Optical/thermal modelling of instrument
Design of the Fine-Guidance System of the payload with AOCS loop
and depending on the outcome of recent proposed missions be prepared to take part in relevant hardware testing activities.


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Tinetti G (2018) A chemical survey of exoplanets with ARIEL in Experimental Astronomy

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Tinetti Giovanna (2018) A chemical survey of exoplanets with ARIEL in Experimental Astronomy

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ST/N50449X/1 01/10/2015 30/09/2020
1783748 Studentship ST/N50449X/1 01/10/2016 30/09/2019 Claudio Arena
Title Fine Guidance System Simulator 
Description The software simulates the performance of the Fine Guidance System (FGS) being developed as part of the project. The tool is written in C++, and deals with generating a simulation of images from a study payload (the Twinkle satellite), and then using such images to perform the FGS control loop simulation. The tool is being refined, and will be publicly available at a later date. 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact The tool has been used to obtain results on the pointing capabilities of the Twinkle mission proposal. These results where used in one paper on the Twinkle satellite, and are currently being used in the write up of a few more papers. The tool also helps in the breadboarding activities currently underway for the project.