Having gone through three months of tense testing for exceptional precision, ESA (European Space Agency) planet hunter CHEOPS, which stands for Characterising ExOPlanet Satellite, is ready to comb outer space for heavenly bodies outside - and far away from - our solar system, ESA said in a statement.
In March, the cutting-edge space telescope began looking at well-known star systems: for instance, the last two weeks were spent observing two stars that are known to host exoplanets.
Functioning in a way similar to NASA’s TESS spacecraft, and using the same transit method, CHEOPS will accurately identify gradual dimming in a star’s brightness, which translates into some unknown planet passing its star.
For the mission, ESA has been collaborating with Switzerland’s University of Bern and University of Geneva, with scientists having had to conduct the tests involved in the preparatory stage from home due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
“We were thrilled when we realised that all the systems worked as expected or even better than expected", said CHEOPS Instrument Scientist Andrea Fortier from the University of Bern.
Routine science observations are expected to begin at the end of April, ESA officials said in the statement. The team specified that CHEOPS will hone in on known exoplanets to measure their sizes with unprecedented precision, while other exoplanet-targeting equipment like NASA's Kepler Space Telescope and the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) were designed to scour space for planets around other stars.
CHEOPS - the Greek name of the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Khufu - "first needed to observe stars whose properties are well known, stars that are well-behaved — hand-picked to be very stable, with no signs of activity", CHEOPS project scientist Kate Isaak said in the statement. The tests allowed the CHEOPS team on Earth to verify that the satellite's instruments are precise and stable enough for observations.