A planet-hunting satellite called Cheops, which was built with the help of two Portuguese companies, was launched into space yesterday (December 18), a day after its lift-off was aborted due to a technical rocket glitch during the final countdown.
The European satellite took off from the European launchpad in Kourou, French Guiana and aims to study planets outside of the Solar System.
The European Space Agency (ESA) has explained that Cheops will observe bright stars that are already known to be orbited by planets.
The mission, which is expected to last three and a half years, involves 11 countries, including Portugal.
Portuguese astrophysicist Nuno Santos is involved in the coordination of the mission while two Portuguese companies contributed to the creation of the satellite, with Deimos being responsible for creating its data processing system and FreziteHP for producing its thermal insulation system.
“Cheops will take exoplanet science to a whole new level,” said Günther Hasinger, ESA Director of Science, on the ESA website.
“After the discovery of thousands of planets, the quest can now turn to characterisation, investigating the physical and chemical properties of many exoplanets and really getting to know what they are made of and how they formed. Cheops will also pave the way for our future exoplanet missions, from the international James Webb Telescope to ESA’s very own Plato and Ariel satellites, keeping European science at the forefront of exoplanet research,” he added.
The article on ESA’s website adds that “Cheops will not focus on the search for new planets”.
“Instead, it will follow-up on hundreds of known planets that have been discovered through other methods. The mission will observe these planets exactly as they transit in front of their parent star and block a fraction of its light, to measure their sizes with unprecedented precision and accuracy.”