Europe approves its own more advanced version of Kepler to launch in 2024 and hunt for exoplanets across half the sky.
During its six year long planned mission, PLATO will observe one million stars, leading to the likely discovery and characterisation of thousands of new planets circling other stars. PLATO will scan and observe about half the sky, including the brightest and nearest stars.
PLATO consists of an array of 34 individual telescopes mounted on an observing platform in the space probe. The satellite will be positioned at one of the so-called Lagrangian Points , where the gravitational pull of the Sun and the Earth cancel each other out so the satellite will stay at a fixed position in space. Each of the 34 telescopes has an aperture of 12 centimeters. The individual telescopes can be combined in many different modes and bundled together, leading to unprecedented capabilities to simultaneously observe both bright and dim objects. PLATO will be equipped with the largest camera-system sensor ever flown in space, comprising 136 charge-coupled devices (CCDs) that have a combined area of 0.9 square metres.
What I like about this is that this project is essentially putting another optical telescope in space. The more of these we have the more discoveries we will make, as even a tiny optical telescope in the vacuum of space is more productive than a giant ground-based telescope looking through the foggy atmosphere of Earth.