European Space Agency (ESA)  CHaracterising ExOPlanets Satellite (Cheops) mission

The European Space Agency has selected a Swiss proposal for funding as the first in a new class of small, low-cost science missions. Cheops (CHaracterising ExOPlanets Satellite) is planned for launch in 2017. The 30-cm (11.8-inch) telescope is designed for high-precision monitoring of a star’s brightness to detect planetary transits. Accurate transit measurements will allow scientists to determine the radius of transiting planets. It will also identify exoplanets with significant atmospheres.

The primary targets for Cheops will be stars where exoplanets have already been detected. “By concentrating on specific known exoplanet host stars, Cheops will enable scientists to conduct comparative studies of planets down to the mass of Earth with a precision that simply cannot be achieved from the ground,” said Professor Alvaro Giménez-Cañete, ESA Director of Science and Robotic Exploration.

Cheops will have a mass of 58 kilograms (128 pounds). It will operate in a Sun-synchronous low-Earth orbit at an altitude of 800 kilometers (500 miles). The telescope has a planned mission lifetime of 3.5 years and part of the observing time will be open to the wider scientific community.

Cheops will join MIT’s ExoplanetSat as one of the small satellites that are dedicated to exoplanet research. Meanwhile, flagship projects like Terrestrial Planet Finder cannot be started as the vampiric James Webb Space Telescope continues to drain NASA’s science budget.

Written by Astro1 on October 19th, 2012 , Astronomy

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