July 23, 2015


PILOT is an international project led by CNES and IRAP to measure the submillimetre polarized emission from interstellar dust for the first time on three stratospheric balloon flights planned between 2015 and 2018.

The PILOT project dedicated to studying the origins of the Universe will measure the submillimetre polarized emission from interstellar dust in our Galaxy for the first time. Complemented by infrared measurements from the European Planck telescope between 2009 and 2013, these data will enable scientists to map the direction and intensity of the Milky Way’s magnetic field and probe the magnetic properties of interstellar dust grains. They will prove very valuable in devising methods to subtract foreground polarized emissions for future cosmology missions designed to map the polarization of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the cooled remnant of the first light to appear in the Universe after the Big Bang.

The PILOT instrument consists of a one-metre-diameter primary mirror, a photometer with cold optics, a rotating half-wave plate and a cryostat containing 2,048 bolometers cooled to 0.3°K. The instrument will be housed inside a pointed science gondola with a daylight star tracker on an 800,000-m3 stratospheric balloon flying at an altitude of about 40 km to escape the obscuring effects of Earth’s atmosphere. Three flights are planned between 2015 and 2018 to map the entire Galaxy and characterize signals generated from outside the Galactic plane.

CNES is funding and overseeing the PILOT system and is responsible for developing the gondola and the Estadius daylight star tracker that will precisely point the instrument. The IRAP astrophysics and planetology research institute is in charge of developing the instrument, with support from CNES. The IAS space astrophysics institute is supplying the photometer, the French atomic energy and alternative energies commission CEA the focal plane, the University of Cardiff the cold optics, and the University of Rome the polarizer.