Europe’s CHEOPS planet-hunting space telescope departed from Earth on Wednesday and gone into orbit, a day after its lift-off was postponed by a technical rocket malfunction during the final countdown.
The telescope will measure the composition, density, and size of planets beyond our Solar System – known as exoplanets.
According to the European Space Agency (ESA), CHEOPS will study bright stars that are previously known to be orbited by planets.
“CHEOPS is 710 kilometers (440 miles) away, just where we wanted it to be, it’s completely perfect,” Didier Queloz, 2019 Nobel Physics Prize winner, told AFP in French Guiana, where the liftoff took place.
“This is really an extraordinary moment in European space history and in the history of the exoplanets.”
Approximately 4,000 such exoplanets have been uncovered since Queloz and his colleague Michel Mayor recognized the first one, called ’51 Pegasi b’, 24 years ago.
The satellite took off at 0854 GMT, according to live video broadcast by launch company Arianespace.
It was the third take-off this year for the Russian-built Soyuz rocket.
On Tuesday, the launcher’s automatic sequence was disturbed during the final countdown at 1 hour 25 minutes, because of what was termed as “an anomaly” in the launch set-up.
Scientists today guess that there are at least as many galaxies as there are stars – about 100 billion.
“We want to go outside statistics and study them in detail,” mission head David Ehrenreich told AFP before Wednesday’s launch.
CHEOPS, an abbreviation for CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite, will pursue to better understand what these planets are made of.
It is an essential step in the long quest to untangle the conditions necessary for extraterrestrial life, but also to crack the origins of our own home planet.
The satellite will revolve around the Earth at a distance of 700 kilometres (435 miles), studying rocks orbiting stars’ numerous light years away.
The aim is to create “a family photo of exoplanets”, Guenther Hasinger, ESA’s manager of science, told AFP on Tuesday.
Queloz said CHEOPS was not likely to solve the holy grail of astrophysics – is there life on other globes?
“Though, in order to comprehend the origin of life, we need to comprehend the geophysics of these planets,” he said.
“It’s as if we’re taking the initial step on a big staircase.”
He further said that the mission would let experts to measure the amount of light reflected from the planets, which in turn could disclose new insights about their surface or atmosphere.
“The launch is a significant moment, an emotional step, but the real magic moment for us will be when the first outcomes arrive,” Queloz said.
According to ESA, this should occur within months.
The launcher also holds a COSMO-SkyMed second-generation satellite for the Italian Space Agency, and three smaller payloads – two from France’s space agency and a nanosatellite from Italian company Tyvak.