The overall PLATO mission profile consists of the following phases:
- Pre-launch phase, from launch campaign preparation to launch vehicle lift-off;
- Launch and Early Orbit Phase (LEOP), from lift-off to the completion of the first trajectory correction manoeuvre performed by the spacecraft on day 2 latest after separation from the launcher upper stage;
- Transfer phase, from the end of the LEOP up to the insertion at the operational orbit around the Earth-Sun Lagrangian point 2 (L2) where scientific observations will be conducted;
- Commissioning phase, starting during the transfer phase and running in parallel to it (and after if necessary) until the completion of the check-out and calibration of the spacecraft and its payload maximum 3 months after launch;
- Nominal science operations phase, starting at the end of the commissioning phase, with a duration of 4 years;
- Extended science operations phase, starting at the completion of the nominal science operations phase and lasting up to 4 years;
- Decommissioning phase, starting close to the end of the science operations phase, and consisting of a disposal manoeuvre to comply with the space debris mitigation requirements and the spacecraft passivation.
Mission observation strategy
PLATO has a flexible observing approach. Two observing strategies are reflected in the science requirements, long-duration observation of the same field versus shorter coverage of shorter different fields, or step-and-stare. These strategies complement each other and allow for a wide range of different science cases to be addressed. Long-duration pointings would be devoted to surveys for small planets out to the Habitable Zone of solar-like stars. Short pointings would be devoted to shorter-period planet detections and will address a number of different science cases such as galactic exploration. In its nominal science operations, PLATO’s current baseline observation scenario assumes a Long-duration Observation Phase (LOP) consisting of continuous observations of two sky fields, lasting 2 years each. An alternative scenario would consist of a LOP of three years and a step-and-stare phase (SOP) of one year. The current mission design constraints impose the centre of the LOP fields to be at least above 63 degrees or below -63 degrees in ecliptic latitude.
The LOP fields preliminary selected are shown as blue areas.