It’s been a decade since it was announced, but the Euclid mission to build a 3D map of the universe is finally getting close to launch with the spacecraft landing in Florida ahead of an expected July liftoff.
The Euclid mission will send the eponymous probe to Earth-Sun Lagrange point 2 – the same spot as NASA’s James Webb Telescope, where it will observe more than a third of the sky and detect galaxies as distant as 10 billion light years away.
Lagrange points are positions in space where Earth and the Sun’s gravitational influences are equal, resulting in objects placed there largely staying put relative to the Earth and Sun. L2, Webb and Euclid’s home, places Earth between the satellites and the Sun, providing some shade to improve observations.
The ultimate goal of the European Space Agency mission – which has enjoyed important contributions from NASA – is to build a 3D map of the large-scale structure of the universe to help scientists better understand the nature of dark matter and dark energy, which make up more than 95 percent of the mass and energy of the universe. Scientists with the European Space Agency also hope Euclid will help them better understand how the expansion of the universe has changed over time, and whether we have a complete understanding of gravity.
“No test of the [general theory of relativity] has been made with high precision over the large distances and times that Euclid will cover. This way, Euclid will reveal if general relativity breaks down at the largest scales. If it does, physicists will need to go back to the drawing board,” ESA said.
Looks like we made it
While its trip from Italy to Port Canaveral, Florida, was an uneventful one, Euclid hasn’t always sailed such smooth seas over the past decade of development.
The mission was originally planned to launch in 2020, but in 2017 NASA found flaws in the infrared detectors the agency was supposed to provide as its contribution to the mission. NASA said at the time that the flaws could delay the mission by at least a year.
While NASA worked to fix its detectors, Russia invaded Ukraine, interrupting ESA’s plan to launch the craft – and several other missions – on Russian Soyuz rockets. By late 2022, ESA had worked out plans to send Euclid, and DART follow-up mission Hera, on SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets.
Had things gone to plan, Euclid’s 1.5 million kilometer trip would have begun in Russia and not necessitated an additional leg of 5,170 nautical miles (5950 miles, 9575 km) – and that’s not the only thing that’ll keep it on the ground until July.
Now that it’s safely on solid ground in the US, Euclid and its transport container have been moved to a facility near Cape Canaveral owned by tech incubator Astrotech. Once its transport container is opened, Euclid will be moved to a clean room where it’ll spend a month having its various subsystems checked to ensure everything is still in working order.
If everything in the clean room goes to plan, Euclid will then be mounted atop its Falcon 9 ride to begin the final leg of its journey. If the James Webb’s trip to L2 is any indicator, Euclid should reach its destination in around 30 days. ®