The European Space Agency announced the completion of the phase of orbital testing and testing of the Cheops space telescope, designed to study exoplanets using the transit method.
CHEOPS (CHaracterising ExOPlanets Satellite) is a small satellite, measuring only 1.5 meters, that was launched into orbit in December 2019. Its main scientific instrument is a telescope with a mirror diameter of 32 centimeters.
The task of the mission is not so much to search for new exoplanets but to study in detail those already found, with masses from Venus to Neptune, in the neighboring stars of the Solar system.
At the end of January, CHEOPS took its first test images. These were deliberately unfocused images of stars to assess the accuracy of the telescope's detector.
Accuracy is a key factor in modern research on exoplanets, of which more than 4,000 have been discovered. At this stage, astronomers proceed to a detailed study of their parameters, structure, history of formation, and evolution.
ESA reports that the commissioning and testing phase is fully completed and Cheops is ready for scientific work.
"The commissioning phase in orbit was an exciting period, and we are happy that we were able to meet all the requirements," the Agency's press release quoted CHEOPS project Manager Nicola Rando as saying. â€” The satellite platform and the device work perfectly. Both the mission and the Scientific operations center support operations flawlessly."
In the first series of flight tests conducted between January and February, scientists analyzed the reaction of satellite instruments â€” a telescope and a detector, in a real space environment. Starting in March, Cheops focused on well-studied stars. In particular, they took pictures of the star HD 88111, which has not yet been found exoplanets.
"To measure how well Cheops works, we first had to observe stars whose properties are well known, stars that behave well, very stable, with no signs of activity," says Kate Isaak, a researcher at the CHEOPS project.
According to experts, the space telescope has demonstrated "excellent efficiency and outstanding performance," and most importantly-high accuracy and stability, much-needed qualities to achieve the mission's ambitious goals.