Tag Archives: rocket launch

The rocket carrying CHEOPS splits depositing its cargo into a low-Earth orbit. (ESA)

New European exoplanet-hunting telescope launches into space

After an initial setback yesterday (17/12/19) due to a software error, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) CHaracterising ExOPlanets Satellite — or CHEOPS — telescope has finally launched from the European Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

Blast off: CHEOPS begins its journey to space (NASA)

CHEOPS was aboard a Russian Soyuz-Fregat rocket which blasted off at 9:54 am European time. The Rocket will take approximately 145 minutes to place the CHEOPS unit into a rare pole to pole low-Earth orbit. 

The telescope hitched a ride with an Italian radar satellite, the rocket’s primary payload. 

CHEOPS being loaded aboard its method of transport (ESA)

CHEOPS is the result of a collaboration between 11 member countries within the ESA, with Switzerland taking the lead on the project. Two of the country’s leading Universities — the University of Geneva and the University Bern — worked together to equip CHEOPS with a state of the art photometer.

This powerful device will measure changes in the light emitted by nearby stars as planets pass by — or transit — them. This examination reveals many details about a planet’s characteristics, its diameter, and details of its atmosphere in particular. 

Another type of lift-off (ESA)

By combining a precise measurement of diameter with a measurement of mass, collected by an alternative method, researchers will then be able to determine a planet’s density. This, in turn, can lead to them deducing its composition and internal structure. 

CHEOPS was completed in a short time with an extremely limited budget of around 50-million Euros.

“CHEOPS is the first S-class mission for ESA, meaning it has a small budget and a short timeline to completion,” explains Kate Issak, an ESA/CHEOPS project researcher. “Because of this, it is necessary for CHEOPS to build on existing technology.”

CHEOPS: Informed by the past, informing the future

The project is acting as a kind of ‘middle-man’ between existing exoplanet knowledge and future investigations. It is directed to perform follow-up investigations on 400–500 ‘targets’ found by NASA planet-hunter Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (Tess) and its predecessor, the Kepler observatory. Said targets will occupy a size-range of approximately Earth-Neptune.

Reaching new heights (ESA)

This mission then fits in with the launch of the James Webb Telescope in 2021 and further investigation methods such as the Extremely Large Telescope array in the Chilean desert, set to begin operations in 2026. It will do this by narrowing down its initial targets to a smaller set of ‘golden targets’. Thus, meaning its investigation should help researchers pinpoint exactly what planets in close proximity to Earth are worthy of follow-up investigation. 

“It’s very classic in astronomy that you use a small telescope ‘to identify’, and then a bigger telescope ‘to understand’ — and that’s exactly the kind of process we plan to do,” explains Didier Queloz, who acted as chair of the Cheops science team. “Cheops will now pre-select the very best of the best candidates to apply to extraordinary equipment like very big telescopes on the ground and JWST. This is the chain we will operate.”

Queloz certainly has pedigree when it comes to exoplanets. The astrophysics professor was jointly awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of the first exoplanet orbiting a Sun-like star with Michel Mayor. 

The first task of the science team operating the satellite, based out of the University of Bern, will be to open the protective doors over the 30 cm aperture telescope — thus, allowing CHEOPS to take its first glimpse of the universe. 

CHEOPS launch postponed due to ‘Software Error’

The scheduled launch of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Characterizing Exoplanets Satellite or CHEOPS telescope, set to usher in a new era of exoplanet research was cancelled today.

Credit: ESA.

The launch, which was set to take place at 12:54 am local time (roughly 4am ET) from the spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana was called-off due to what the University of Bern is calling a software error. The institution was set to live stream the event. 

The launch has been rescheduled and is expected to take place within the next 24 to 48 hours. The official revised launch time and date will be announced at 6:00pm (ET). 

CHEOPS is loaded aboard a Russian Soyuz-FG, which will place it in a low-Earth orbit. The procedure — which will take around 145 minutes to complete — will result in CHEOPS taking a rare pole-to-pole orbit. 

The CHEOPS mission is designed to observe exoplanets in relatively close proximity to Earth. The aim of this is to select viable targets for future investigation by the next major development in both the fields of astronomy and exoplanet research — the James Webb Telescope, set to launch in 2021. 

It is hoped that by using a combination of these instruments, researchers will finally be able to uncover characteristics of rocky exoplanets, which has been tricky up until now. This will include discovering if such bodies can maintain atmospheres and deduce the chemical compositions of these atmospheres.

It is likely that when the launch does occur, live coverage will be provided by the ESA on its website. 

A North Korean soldier stands guard in front of the now defunct Unha-3 rocket at Tangachai -ri space center. (c) AFP

It really is rocket science, North Korea. In the wake of the nation’s failed launch

The whole world had its eyes on North Korea yesterday, when the nation proceeded on its third attempt to launch an object into space, this time a weather satellite, despite intense political pressure against such action due to concern of it actually being a covert long-range missile test and numerous U.N. treaty violations. Like North Korea’s past attempts, the Unha-3 carrier failed miserably, splintering into pieces over the Yellow Sea soon after takeoff.

Just minutes after the rocket crashed, the US and South Korea declared the launch failed, a statement surprisingly followed by the North Korean government as well, albeit some hours later. The whole event was publicized far and wide for weeks, and heralded as a major technological achievement to mark the upcoming 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the country’s founder and current leader’s grandfather. Foreign journalists were even invited to photograph and witness the launch site, though the invitation wasn’t prelonged for the launch event itself, probably due to rising pressure from other nations to diffuse military speculations. The media pressure, on the other hand, is what probably prompted the North Korean government to publicize the failure to its people as well, a fact rarely admitted, certain to tarnish confidence in Kim Jong-un, who rose to power after his father’s passing in December.

The failure “blows a big hole in the birthday party,” said Victor Cha, former director for Asia policy in the U.S. National Security Council. “It’s terribly embarrassing for the North.”

North Korea is one of the most isolated and oppressive countries in the world, governed by a class of politicians who believe military ambitions and playing astronaut is what’s best for their people, currently literary starving by the millions. After the failed launch, the country is set to be met with even stricter embargoes, U.N. sanctions and humanitarian aid cuts, the first one being U.S.’s food aid. Sadly, the North Korean people wasn’t the one that brought any of this upon itself, however they’ll be the ones most suffering as a consequence.

In the wake of this failed attempt, other governments will keep the rogue state (even North Korea’s long time allay, China, urged the Pyongyang government to cancel the launch) under close supervision, as all intelligence hint towards an imminent nuclear test in the near future.

“We have to watch very carefully what they are doing now at the nuclear test site and how they explain this with all those foreign journalists in the country,” Mr. Cha said.

Well, at least the Unha-3 didn’t get to blow up in orbit, otherwise we’d have a new peak in space junk material. What really cracked me up, though, was that North Korea issued a public announcement in which it warned of “merciless punishment” directed towards any government (read South Korea and Japan, which had anti-missile units positioned to fire if the North Korean rocket would have crossed in their space) who would dare to disrupt the launch into orbit or collect any debris from the rocket. Now that the launch failed all by itself, where will this merciless punishment turned to? Its people