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CHEOPS, ESA’s first mission dedicated to the study of exoplanets

on 16 December 2019

Cheops, the CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite, is scheduled to launch on a Soyuz-Fregat rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana at 09:54 CET (10:54 Romanian time) on 17 December 2019. Cheops is ESA’s first mission dedicated to the study of extrasolar planets, or exoplanets. It will observe bright stars that are already known to host planets, measuring minuscule brightness changes due to the planet’s transit across the star’s disc.

From 09:30 CET (10:30 Romanian time), you can watch the live stream of the event at esawebtv.esa.int.

The mission will target stars hosting planets in the Earth- to Neptune-size range, yielding precise measurements of the planet sizes. This, together with independent information about the planet masses, will allow scientists to determine their density, enabling a first-step characterisation of these extrasolar worlds. A planet’s density provides vital clues about its composition and structure, indicating for example if it is predominantly rocky or gassy, or perhaps harbours significant oceans.

Unlike previous exoplanet satellites Cheops is not a ‘discovery machine’ but rather a follow-up mission, focusing on individual stars that are already known to host one or more planets. It will observe bright stars that are already known to host planets, measuring minuscule brightness changes due to the planet’s transit across the star’s disc – a method known as transit photometry.

Along with transit photometry, these are the techniques used to discover exoplanets:

2019 12 CHEOPS Image A

Cheops will lift off as a secondary passenger, hitching a ride on the Soyuz-Fregat that will deliver the first satellite of the Italian Space Agency’s Cosmo-SkyMed Second Generation constellation into space. The launcher will also carry three ‘CubeSats’, small satellites based on standardised 10 cm cubic units.

2019 12 CHEOPS Image B

2019 12 CHEOPS Image C 

2019 12 CHEOPS Image D

2019 12 CHEOPS Image E

Image credit:

Main image: ESA

Infographic: ESA

Image gallery: ESA/ATG medialab; ESA–G. Porter; ESA/CNES/Arianespace/Optique vidéo du CSG/J Durrenberger