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ESA successfully launches satellite to examine distant exoplanets

After the in-orbit commissioning, the satellite will start its operational lifetime of at least three-and-half years and operate in a Sun-synchronous Earth orbit at an altitude of 700 km.

European Space Agency (ESA) successfully launched its CHEOPS satellite on a Soyuz rocket from the European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana on December 18.

CHEOPS is ESA’s first exoplanetary mission and the first satellite built by Airbus in Spain. CHEOPS will characterise exoplanets of nearby stars, observing known planets in the size range between Earth and Neptune and precisely measuring their radii to determine their density and understand what they are made of.

The satellite uses proven technologies to pave the way for bigger and more ambitious missions – with the aim of verifying if any exoplanet may be capable of supporting life.

The Soyuz launcher took off as scheduled with its five passengers allocated on the multi-payload dispenser also built by Airbus. CHEOPS separated after two hours and 23 minutes from lift-off.

Commenting on the launch, Phillipe Pham, Head of Earth Observation, Navigation and Science, Space Systems, said: “CHEOPS, a pathfinder for future exoplanets missions, is a very important programme for Airbus as it is the first Science mission primed from Spain. With the expertise and the strong engagement of our team and our 24 partners from 11 European countries, we were able to deliver the satellite perfectly on time to ESA and contributed to this success. We look forward to the next ESA Science mission, Solar Orbiter.”