Euclid Space Telescope Begins Mission to Study Dark Energy and Matter

A computer-generated image of the Euclid space telescope looking into the universe. (Image: ESA)

ESA’s Euclid spacecraft lifted off on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida, on July 1, 2023. The successful launch marks the beginning of an ambitious mission to uncover the nature of two mysterious components of our Universe: dark matter and dark energy.

Following launch and separation from the rocket, ESA’s European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, confirmed acquisition of signal from Euclid via the New Norcia ground station in Australia.

In the next four weeks, Euclid will travel towards Sun-Earth Lagrange Point 2, an equilibrium point of the Sun-Earth system located 1.5 million km from Earth (about four times the Earth-Moon distance) in the direction opposite from the Sun. There, Euclid will be maneuvered into orbit around this point and mission controllers will start the activities to verify all the functions of the spacecraft, check out the telescope and finally turn on the scientific instruments. It will also join Hershel, Gaia and the James Webb Space Telescope, which are currently in-orbit at Lagrange Point 2.

Scientists and engineers will then be engaged in a two month phase of testing and calibrating Euclid’s scientific instruments and preparing for routine observations. Over six years Euclid will survey one third of the sky.

Euclid will observe billions of galaxies out to 10 billion light-years to create the largest, most accurate 3D map of the Universe, with the third dimension representing time itself. This detailed chart of the shape, position and movement of galaxies will reveal how matter is distributed across immense distances and how the expansion of the universe has evolved over cosmic history, enabling astronomers to infer the properties of dark energy and dark matter. This will help theorists to improve our understanding of the role of gravity and pin down the nature of these enigmatic entities.

To achieve its ambitious scientific goal, Euclid is equipped with a 1.2 meter reflecting telescope that feeds the two scientific instruments: VIS, which takes very sharp images of galaxies over a large fraction of the sky, and NISP, which can analyze galaxies’ infrared light by wavelength to accurately establish their distance.

Along with Thales Alenia Space, prime contractor for the whole satellite, Airbus plays a major role in this mission. The company was chosen by ESA to develop the payload module for the two instruments.

The spacecraft and communications will be controlled from ESOC. To cope with the vast amounts of data Euclid will acquire, ESA’s Estrack network of deep space antennas has been upgraded. These data will be analyzed by the Euclid Consortium – a group of more than 2,000 scientists from more than 300 institutes across Europe, the US, Canada and Japan.

As the mission progresses, Euclid’s treasure trove of data will be released with yearly cadence and will be accessible to the global scientific community via the Science Archive hosted at ESA’s European Space Astronomy Centre in Spain.