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Science & Exploration

N° 24–2019: Call for Media: Cheops launch to study exoplanets

10 December 2019

Cheops, ESA’s ‘Characterising Exoplanet Satellite’, is scheduled to be launched on a Soyuz-Fregat rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, at 09:54 CET on 17 December 2019. Representatives of traditional and social media are invited to apply for accreditation to follow the launch live from ESA’s European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC) near Madrid, Spain.

Cheops is ESA’s first mission dedicated to the study of extrasolar planets, or exoplanets. It is a partnership between ESA and Switzerland, with a dedicated consortium led by the University of Bern, and with important contributions from 10 other ESA Member States.

The prime contractor for the design and construction of the spacecraft is Airbus Defence and Space in Spain.

The mission will observe bright stars that are already known to host planets, measuring minuscule brightness changes due to the planet’s transit across the star’s disc.

Cheops will target stars hosting planets in the Earth- to Neptune-size range, yielding precise measurements of the planet sizes. This, together with independent information about the planet masses, will allow scientists to determine their density, enabling a first-step characterisation of these extrasolar worlds. A planet’s density provides vital clues about its composition and structure, indicating for example if it is predominantly rocky or gassy, or perhaps harbours significant oceans.

Unlike previous exoplanet satellites, such as the CNES-led Corot or NASA’s Kepler and TESS missions, Cheops is not a ‘discovery machine’ but rather a follow-up mission, focusing on individual stars that are already known to host one or more planets. It will also identify the best candidates for detailed study by future observatories.

The mission paves the way for the next generation of ESA’s exoplanet satellites – Plato and Ariel – planned for the next decade. Together, these missions will keep the European scientific community at the forefront of exoplanet research and will build on answering the fundamental question: what are the conditions for planet formation and the emergence of life in the Universe?

Cheops will lift off as a secondary passenger, hitching a ride on the Soyuz-Fregat that will deliver the first satellite of the Italian space agency ASI’s Cosmo-SkyMed Second Generation constellation into space. The launcher will also carry three ‘CubeSats’, small satellites based on standardised 10 cm cubic units, including ESA’s OPS-SAT – the world’s first free-for-use, in-orbit testbed for new software, applications and techniques in satellite control.

Experts will present the mission, its technical challenges and scientific goals during a dedicated programme for media at ESAC, which will include viewing the webcast from the launch site in Kourou.

Provisional schedule at ESA’s ESAC astronomy centre, 17 December

(all times in CET)

08:30 Doors open

09:15 Programme begins

Scientists and mission operations experts present the mission, with live transmissions from Kourou including the moment of liftoff at 09:54 CET. This will be followed by Q&A sessions and individual interview opportunities ahead of the Cheops separation, expected around 12:20, and announcement of acquisition of signal from the Mission Operations Centre located at INTA, in Torrejón de Ardoz, Spain.

14:00 End of event – media invited to join team lunch with representatives of ESA, industry and the scientific community.

Speakers include:

Markus Kissler-Patig, ESA Head of Science Operations

Francesco Ratti, ESA Cheops instrument engineer

Ana Heras, ESA Plato project scientist

Davide Gandolfi, Cheops Science Team member, University of Torino (Italy)

Laetitia Delrez, Cheops Science Team member, University of Cambridge (UK) and University of Liège (Belgium)

Isabel Rebollido, Principal investigator of a Cheops Guest Observer proposal, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (Spain)

How to apply

Media with valid press credentials should register by 15 December at: 

Social media should register by 15 December at the same link as above.

Note that there is no dedicated social media event; those attending with social media accreditation will have the same access to the event as traditional/online news media. Social media participants should check here that they meet the eligibility criteria before applying.

How to get to ESAC

Follow online


ESA Web TV will cover the launch live from 09:30 CET at 

Social media

For live updates throughout the launch period, follow @ESA_CHEOPS and @esascience on Twitter. The official hashtag is #cheops


More information about Cheops:
A media kit is also available.

In-depth information about Cheops: 

Images and videos

Images and videos of Cheops:

Images of Cheops: about Cheops:

ESA’s Photo Library for Professionals:
ESA’s Video Library for Professionals:

Terms and conditions for using ESA images:

For questions or more information related to ESA images, please contact directly

Terms and conditions for using ESA videos:

For questions or more information related to ESA videos, please contact directly

About the European Space Agency

The European Space Agency (ESA) provides Europe’s gateway to space.

ESA is an intergovernmental organisation, created in 1975, with the mission to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space delivers benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world.

ESA has 22 Member States: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Slovenia is an Associate Member.

ESA has established formal cooperation with seven Member States of the EU. Canada takes part in some ESA programmes under a Cooperation Agreement.

By coordinating the financial and intellectual resources of its members, ESA can undertake programmes and activities far beyond the scope of any single European country. It is working in particular with the EU on implementing the Galileo and Copernicus programmes as well as with Eumetsat for the development of meteorological missions.

ESA develops the launchers, spacecraft and ground facilities needed to keep Europe at the forefront of global space activities.

Today, it develops and launches satellites for Earth observation, navigation, telecommunications and astronomy, sends probes to the far reaches of the Solar System and cooperates in the human exploration of space. ESA also has a strong applications programme developing services in Earth observation, navigation and telecommunications.

Learn more about ESA at 

For further information:

ESA Media Relations


Tel: +34918131359