Construction of the space telescope CHEOPS is completed —the engineers from the Center for Space and Habitability (CSH) at the University of Bern will package the instrument this week and send it to Madrid, where it will be integrated on the satellite platform.
CHEOPS (CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite) is to be ready to launch in early 2019 and will observe how exoplanets in other solar systems pass in front of their host star.
The specially designed transport case is ready and waiting in the building for Exact Sciences of the University of Bern. In the next few days, the CHEOPS team will load the space telescope in the cleanroom into the transport container, where it is well protected against shock, moisture and dirt. A truck will then transport the precious cargo to Madrid. Airbus Defense and Space – Spain built the satellite platform that supports the telescope and enables it to operate in space. In the upcoming weeks, the instrument will be integrated and the satellite will be tested. The space telescope will observe stars in the cosmic neighborhood that are known to be orbited by exoplanets. CHEOPS measures the brightness of the stars. This decreases slightly when an exoplanet passes in front of its host star. The size of the exoplanet can be determined by the decrease in brightness during such a transit.
Institutes from 11 European nations are involved in the CHEOPS mission. The structure was designed and manufactured in Switzerland, the optics originate from Italy, the baffle and cover assembly from Belgium, the data processing unit and flight software from Austria, the radiators from Hungary and the focal plane module, which was developed in Germany, contains a CCD detector from Great Britain. At the University of Bern, the various parts were assembled in the cleanroom and the telescope was subjected to vibrations on the shaker, similar to those vibrations it will have to withstand at the start.
The team was under tremendous time pressure. CHEOPS is ESA’s first small ‘S-class mission.' It must be implemented within a few years and cannot cost ESA more than 50 million euros. Switzerland pays around 30 million euro, while the remaining partners pay about 20 million euro.
During the last few weeks, the engineers calibrated the instrument and tested the software. Following its integration in Madrid, the satellite will be tested at several locations in Europe before being sent to Kourou, ESA’s space station in French Guiana. By early 2019, CHEOPS should be ready to launch. A Soyuz rocket will launch it together with a larger Italian radar satellite into a 700 kilometer orbit.