Last year in December, the European Space Agency (ESA) had launched the CHaracterizing ExOPlanet Satellite (CHEOPS)– its first mission focused on exoplanets. Tasked with finding new information about already-discovered planets, CHEOPS has finally opened its eyes to observe the universe for the first time.
Ever since its launch in December, ESA’s CHEOPS satellite has been orbiting the Earth at an altitude of 700 kilometres (435 miles). Scientists had been performing various tests to make sure all the components were working as they should and now it is ready to send back its first images.
“Shortly after the launch on December 18, 2019, we tested the communication with the satellite,” Willy Benz, professor of astrophysics at the University of Bern and Principal Investigator of the CHEOPS mission, said in a statement. “Then, on January 8, 2020, we started the commissioning, that is, we booted the computer, carried out tests, and started up all the components.”
CHEOPS cover opened
As the tests went well, the next step was to open the cover of the space telescope, which was used to protect the instrument during its launch. On Wednesday, January 29, the cover of CHEOPS was opened for the first time.
“The cover was opened by sending electricity to heat an element which held the cover closed. The heat deformed this element and the cover sprung open. A retaining fixture caught the cover,” Benz said. “Thanks to the measurements of the sensors installed, we knew within minutes that everything had worked as planned.”
What awaits CHEOPS?
Wit its cover opened, CHEOPS is now ready for its mission of observing exoplanets, in particular, to search for habitable planets. Benz said that in the next two months, they will examine the measurement accuracy of the space telescope under different conditions as CHEOPS targets a number of stars with and without planets.
Since its launch, CHEOPS has taken hundreds of images already, but since its cover was close, these were all black. Scientists have already been able to calibrate the instrument so we would not have to wait for the first CHEPS images of space.
According to David Ehrenreich, CHEOPS project scientist at the University of Geneva, even though it will take a while for the researchers to confirm that the CHEOPS satellite is operating correctly in every way, there should be images available to view soon. “We expect to be able to analyze and publish the first images within one or two weeks,” he said.
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