Artist’s illustration of CHEOPS with its telescope door open. Image: ESA/ATG medialab
A Russian-built Soyuz rocket boosted the European Space Agency’s CHEOPS spacecraft into space 18 December, kicking off an ambitious exoplanet research mission.
Designed to build upon discoveries made by previous pioneering exoplanet telescopes — like NASA’s Kepler mission — the ESA’s Characterising Exoplanet Satellite, or CHEOPS, mission was injected into orbit some 700 kilometres 435 miles) above Earth.
“We are extremely relieved,” said Günther Hasinger, ESA’s director of science. “CHEOPS is working. All systems are green. telemetry is stable, temperatures are fine, power voltages are fine, so everything is good to go.”
CHEOPS will be capable of registering tiny changes in the brightness of stars as planets block their light from reaching the telescope. This way of observing exoplanets is called the transit method, and it’s been used by Kepler, NASA’s TESS observatory and the French space agency’s CoRoT mission to discover planets around other stars.
Astronomers designed CHEOPS to follow up on discoveries made by other telescopes.
“What makes CHEOPS quite special to all the other transit missions so far is that CHEOPS is not really a discovery mission,” said Willy Benz, the mission’s principal investigator from ...