Swiss-developed exoplanet telescope launched into space


The satellite launched by ESA is called "Characterizing Exoplanet Satellite" (aka CHEOPS), and it was launched yesterday (December 18) aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket that took off from the Guiana Space Center.

What is it? CHEOPS (the Characterising Exoplanets Satellite) is a small space telescope created to investigate exoplanets that are larger than Earth and smaller than Neptune. During that time, it will mostly spy on small, potentially Earth-like planets, but the target list is constantly evolving. The dimensions data, measured as the exoplanets transit in front of their host stars, will be combined with existing information about their masses to calculate their densities.

But the mission of the CHEOPS satellite is a little more complicated: its ultimate goal is to discover how habitable those exoplanets are. Perhaps some of them are mostly water.

The solar-powered satellite will also watch for changes in how starlight is reflected by an exoplanet during multiple phases of its orbit, in a similar way to how a person on Earth perceives the phases of the Moon - crescent, full etc. To ensure maximal access to prime image-snapping conditions-that is, dark skies-the satellite will always keep its main instrument pointed toward the side of Earth experiencing night, or away from the sun. It has a Ritchey-Chrétien telescope, which is the same design used in the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes.

This mission VS23 will be final for Arianespace this year.

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"The idea is to look at bright stars - because you want to look at ones that are good for follow-up by other telescopes and facilities, to characterise the atmosphere of the planet, for instance".

The recent launch started at 08:54 GMT, confirmed the space agency.

CHEOPS was developed by researchers at the University of Bern in collaboration with other Swiss firms, including Ruag Space and Thales Alenia, and the European Space Agency.

CHEOPS will not directly observe distant planets but will rather study the light emitted by stars and how the exoplanets affect the light as they pass by along their orbit. The ESA will also deploy the PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (PLATO) and Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey (ARIEL) missions in the late 2020s to further investigate new worlds, according to a statement. He said an investigation had been launched, adding: "More details expected later on today".