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Paper: A Mid-infrared Space Observatory for Characterizing Exoplanets
Volume: 430, Pathways Towards Habitable Planets
Page: 493
Authors: Martin, S. R.; Scharf, D. P.; Wirz, R.; Purcell, G.; Rodriguez, J.
Abstract: The TPF-Darwin planet-finding concept is a space-based mid-IR nulling interferometer consisting of four formation flying reflecting mirrors focusing light into a separate beam combiner spacecraft. As a flagship mission it is a highly capable instrument with the principal science goal of detecting Earth-like planets in the habitable zone of nearby stars (up to 15 parsec) from their thermal emission, and characterizing their physical properties. Measurements can be made of the size, temperature, orbit, and of the presence of an atmosphere with moderate resolution (R = 50) spectra to reveal bio-markers such as ozone, carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapor. The sensitivity is such that a whole planetary system down to half Earth-size planets can be detected in a single day and in a five-year mission life, revisits and repeat detections would reveal the system dynamics. For the most interesting objects, longer measurement series would reveal the detailed thermal spectrum; these measurements would take place in the later part of the mission. The system also has a general astrophysics capability for investigations of distant compact objects and the mission timeline provides ample opportunities for such observations. The mission would use a single heavy launch vehicle to place the system at L2 Sun-Earth halo orbit. This poster shows the main mission elements, the spacecraft design and formation flying, and xenon-ion thruster technologies. Many of the ideas have been developed with European colleagues and the mission has potential to be a collaborative effort between the US and European space agencies.
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