The European Space Agency (ESA) has launched a new mission that will take a closer look at nearby bright stars that are already known to have exoplanets orbiting around them. Dubbed the Characterising Exoplanets Satellite (CHEOPS), the 1.5 m probe is the first dedicated ESA mission to study exoplanets. It was launched today from the European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, at 08.54 GMT.
From a Sun-synchronous polar orbit with an altitude of about 700 km, CHEOPS will measure the brightness of the stars, looking for tiny dips associated with a transit – when an exoplanet passes in front of its star, blocking some of the light that reaches Earth. Rather than search for new planets, CHEOPS will study about 500 of the 4000 or so known exoplanets during a 3.5-year period. These planets have already been discovered from previous planet-hunting satellites such as NASA’s Kepler and Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite missions as well ESA’s Corot probe.
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With a mass of 280 kg, CHEOPS contains a single optical Ritchey–Chrétien telescope with an aperture of 30 cm. It ...