ESA's CHaracterising ExOPlanets Satellite (CHEOPS) has been declared flight ready and is being stored at the Airbus Defence and Space facility in Madrid before being shipped to Kourou, French Guiana, where it will be installed atop a Soyuz-Fregat rocket. The unmanned probe, which is tasked with studying planets outside the solar system, is scheduled to launch between October 15 and November 14, 2019.

Originally slated to fly in 2017, Cheops is a joint mission by ESA and the Swiss Space Office that's intended as an exoplanet observatory rather than an exoplanet hunter. After launch, it will be sent into a Sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 700 km (435 mi).

There it will train its telescope on exoplanets that have already been discovered by Kepler and other missions, with a special emphasis on ones in the super-Earth range. That is, planets are are the same size or larger than the Earth, but smaller than the gas giant, Neptune.

It will do this by making multiple, very precise measurements of the changes in the light curve as the planets pass in front of their principal stars. In this way, it will be able to determine planet properties, such as size, mass, composition, atmosphere, density, and internal structure. This will take up to 80 percent of mission time, with the remaining 20 percent reserved for other scientific observations.

"Cheops is ESA's first satellite dedicated to exoplanets, paving the way to two more missions in the coming decade and consolidating European leadership in exoplanet science," says Günther Hasinger, ESA Director of Science.

Source: ESA

View gallery - 3 images