One of the long-term objectives of extrasolar planet research is the investigation of the atmospheric properties for a large number (∼ 100) of terrestrial exoplanets. This is partially driven by the idea to search for and identify potential biosignatures, but such a dataset is — in a more general sense — invaluable for understanding the diversity of planetary bodies. First steps in this direction will be taken in the coming 10-15 years with funded or selected ground and space-based projects and missions. However, none of them will be able to deliver such a comprehensive dataset. An alternative to the currently discussed large space based coronographic missions or the starshade concept in the optical and near-infrared, is to separate the photons of the planet from those of its host star by means of an interferometer at mid-infrared (MIR) wavelengths. LIFE is a project initiated in Europe with the goal to consolidate various efforts and define a roadmap that eventually leads to the launch of a large, space based MIR nulling interferometer to investigate the atmospheric properties of a large sample of (primarily) terrestrial exoplanets [1,2,3].
Centered around clear and ambitious scientific objectives the project will define therelevant science and technical requirements. The status of key technologies will be re-assessed and further technology development will be coordinated. LIFE is based on the heritage of ESA/Darwin and NASA/TPFI, but significant advances in our understanding of exoplanets and newly available technologies will be taken into account in the LIFE mission concept.
Quanz, S. P., Kammerer, J., Defrère, D., et al. 2018, Optical and Infrared Interferometry and Imaging VI, 10701,107011I.
Defrère, D., Léger, A., Absil, O., et al. 2018, Experimental Astronomy, 46, 543.
Quanz, S.P., et al., arXiv:1908.01316, White Paper submitted to ESA