Completing the Census of Exoplanets with the Microlensing Planet Finder (MPF)
The MPF mission will provide a statistical census of exoplanets with masses greater than 0.1 Earth-masses and orbital separations ranging from 0.5AU to infinity. This includes analogs to all the Solar System's planets except for Mercury, as well as most types of planets predicted by planet formation theories. Such a survey will provide results on the frequency of planets around all types of stars except those with short lifetimes. Close-in planets with separations < 0.5 AU are invisible to a space-based microlensing survey, but these can be found by Kepler. Other methods, including ground-based microlensing, cannot approach the comprehensive statistics on the mass and semi-major axis distribution of extrasolar planets that a space-based microlensing survey will provide. The terrestrial planet sensitivity of a ground-based microlensing survey is limited to the vicinity of the Einstein radius at 2-3 AU, and space-based imaging is needed to identify and determine the mass of the planetary host stars for the vast majority of planets discovered by microlensing. Thus, a space-based microlensing survey is likely to be the only way to gain a comprehensive understanding of the architecture of planetary systems, which is needed to understand planet formation and habitability. MPF can accomplish these objectives with proven technology and a cost of $333 million (excluding launch vehicle).
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