Space mission

CHEOPS opens its eyes to the sky


In Research
Artist's impression of CHEOPS, ESA's CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite, in orbit above Earth. Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

An important milestone in the CHEOPS space mission has just been successfully completed. The opening of the ESA satellite cover, which was designed and assembled at the Centre Spatial de Liège (CSL) in collaboration with Qinetiq Space, worked as planned. The satellite is now ready to take and send its first images of the sky, which will be analysed by a scientific team including researchers from the University of Liège. Without this simple movement of the shutter, the entire mission would have been compromised.

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t was 7:38 a.m. on Wednesday 29 January 2020 when the science team leading ESA's CHEOPS* (CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite) space mission heaved a sight of relief from the Mission Operations Centre, located at the National Institute of Aerospace Technology (INTA) in Madrid, Spain. The satellite's cover, designed and assembled at the Centre Spatial de Liège (CSL) - the only mechanical part that protects the instruments on board the satellite from launch to orbit - opened as planned, allowing the start of the observations. The first images of the sky can now be taken and the performances of CHEOPS verified in the coming weeks.

For Jean-Yves Plesseria, Engineer at the Centre Spatial de Liège (CSL) : "Despite our confidence in the reliability of the cover opening mechanism, the last few minutes before the order was sent were very stressful. Fortunately everything went according to the expectations and all the data showed us that the cover was wide open. The next step is the acquisition and analysis of the first images to confirm that CHEOPS is functioning as planned. »

The CHEOPS space mission, in which researchers from the University of Liège - which is leading the Belgian participation to this mission - are also participating, aims to measure the radius and some characteristics of the atmosphere of identified exoplanets orbiting bright stars in the neighbourhood of the solar system.

For Valérie Van Grootel,FRS-FNRS Research Associate at the STAR Institute (Faculty of Science) and member of the CHEOPS scientific team: "This morning we felt a great relief when the cover opening was announced, both for the engineers and the scientists. It's also a real pride for Liège that everything went perfectly! Everyone is now very eager for the science to come in. »

For Laetitia Delrez, PostDoc researcher at ULiège (ASTROBIOLOGY and STAR research units /Faculty of Science) and member of the CHEOPS scientific team: "Opening the lid is an important step. We will now be able to begin testing the performance of the telescope in different configurations and on different stars, representative of the targets that CHEOPS will observe over the next few years. This second part of the commissioning phase will last until mid-March and will also be crucial for the training of all the ground segment components, including the "Science Operations Center" at the Observatory of the University of Geneva, where the mission will be coordinated and where data will be processed and archived. »

* The European Agency's CHEOPS mission is carried out by a consortium of 11 countries: Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Sweden, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Contacts

PLESSERIA Jean-Yves I Centre Spatial de Liège

VAN GROOTEL Valérie I STAR Research Institute I Faculté des Sciences

DELREZ Laetitia I STAR Research Institute I ASTROBIOLOGY I Faculté des Sciences

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