ARIEL has been selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) as the next medium-class science mission (M4) to be launched in 2028. The aim of the ARIEL mission is to study the atmospheres of a selected sample of exoplanets.
The payload is based on a 1-m class telescope ahead of a suite of instruments: two spectrometric channels covering the band 1.95 to 7.80 μm without gaps, three photometric channels working in the range 0.5 to 1.2 μm, and a low-resolution spectrometer in the range 1.25 to 1.95 μm.
The telescope layout is conceived as an eccentric pupil two-mirror classic Cassegrain configuration coupled to a tertiary off-axis paraboloidal mirror. The telescope will be realized on-ground, i.e. subjected to gravity and at room temperature, but it shall operate in space, at 0 g, and at a temperature of about 50 K. For this reason, the telescope expected “as-built” in-flight performance has to be determined via a detailed thermo-elastic analysis.
A trade-off on the material to be used for manufacturing the 1-m diameter primary mirror (M1) was carried out, and aluminum alloys have been selected as the baseline materials for both the telescope mirrors and structure.
The use of metals, like aluminum alloys, is nowadays frequently considered for the fabrication of space telescopes observing in the infrared wavelength range. Small-size aluminum parts have been proved to be popular both for IR mirrors and structural components, but the manufacturing and stability of large metallic optics still have to be demonstrated. The production of a large aluminum mirror such as that of ARIEL is a challenge, and to prove its feasibility a dedicated study and development program has been started. A prototype, with the same size of the M1 flight model but a simpler surface profile, has been realized and tested.