PILOT is an embedded astrophysics experiment that will carry at an altitude of 40 km a stratospheric balloon of 800 000 m3. The scientific objective is to measure the polarized emission of interstellar dust grains. These measurements will help to map the direction and the intensity of the magnetic field of our Galaxy. They will also lead to understand the magnetic properties of the interstellar medium grains. These data will be very helpful in establishing methods for subtracting the contribution of the polarized emission of the foreground for future cosmological missions which will aim to map the polarization of the microwave background radiation.

PILOT (Polarized Instrument for Long wavelength Observation of the Tenuous interstellar medium) : Measuring the emission of dust grains in the interstellar medium

Research Group :  MICMAC

  • Scientific Responsible : J-Ph. Bernard
  • Technical Manager : Ch. Marty
    • Orther technical staff involved : G. Roudil, Th. Camus, W. Marty, B. Mot, G. Versepuech, C. Engel, F. Bousquet, O. Simonella, L. Bautista, S. Maestre

The experiment

This experience of more than one tonne will be shipped under a stratospheric balloon of more than 800 000 cubic meters at an altitude of about 40 km in order to overcome the atmospheric absorption. The instrument consists of a primary mirror of one meter diameter and of a set of detection comprising 2048 bolometers cooled to 0.3 K. These sensors, developed for the needs of the PACS instrument on board the Herschel satellite, will allow measurements every 240 and 550 microns with an angular resolution of a few minutes of arc. The wavelengths corresponding to the dust emission as well as a novel method using matrices for measuring polarization will change the PILOT instrument into the most sensitive experience dedicated to this type of measurement.

The collaborations

PILOT is an international project involving French laboratories and institutes such as the CNRS, IRAP and IAS, institutions like the CEA and CNES, and foreign participation (La Sapienza University of Rome -Italy-, the Cardiff University -Country of Galles-, the European Space Agency). IRAP is the prime contractor for the scientific instrument. CNES is responsible for the system and is funding the project (20 ME in consolidated cost of which 2,6ME for CNES / IRAP agreement).

Technical involvement

IRAP is both the PI and implementer of the scientific instrument. It coordinates the development of the instrument involving the CEA, the IAS, the Cardiff University, the University of Rome and several subcontractors (Sagem Reosc, Microtec, ...). IRAP is also developing several sub systems: mechanical structure of the instrument, primary mirror, electronic easement, instrument calculator, ground resources. It is responsible for the final integration to be operated in Toulouse, for the release and fligh operations as well as for the ground and flight data processing.

Objectives and Planning

The instrument is currently in phase of integration and testing at the CNES. A move is planned before June 2014 to the IRAP site for the latest integration and testing phases with the nacelle. Following the difficult landing of the heavy load validation flight in September 2013, a second validation will take place in September 2014, then the first PILOT flight is planned on 1 April 2015 in Canada. The schedule of the 2nd and 3rd flight will highly depend upon the outcome of the first flight.

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