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Russia’s Soyuz rocket with telescope to study exoplanets blasts off from Kourou spaceport

Within four hours of the liftoff, the Fregat-MT booster will orbit CHEOPS telescope, the Italian Cosmo-SkyMed radar satellite and three small satellites

PARIS, December 18. /TASS/. A Russian Soyuz-ST-A carrier rocket with four satellites and Europe’s CHEOPS telescope intended to search for exoplanets has successfully blasted off from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana, the flight operator Arianespace announced in a live broadcast on Wednesday.

The Russian carrier rocket blasted off at 11:54 a.m. Moscow time. About 10 minutes after the liftoff, the Fregat-MT booster separated from the Russian launch vehicle in the normal mode and is now set to orbit five space vehicles with a total weight of 2.5 tonnes within four hours. The blastoff was initially scheduled for December 17, the same hours, but was delayed for a day due to an error found in the rocket’s systems during pre-launch tests. This mission VS23 will be final for Arianespace in 2019.

Space vehicles to be launched by Soyuz rocket

Europe’s CHEOPS (CHaracterising ExOPlanets Satellite) space telescope has been developed under the program of fundamental space research implemented by the European Space Agency (ESA) in partnership with the Swiss Space Office (SSO) to study conditions on the already known exoplanets rotating around the stars closest to the solar system and to search for new such planets through the transit method.

In the first place, the surveys will study planets with the masses ranging from the mass of Venus to the mass of Neptune and help select planetary candidates for closer observation with the help of the European E-ELT super-telescope and the US James Webb orbital observatory that are being prepared for their launch.

CHEOPS has a 32 cm mirror as its main instrument. The telescope has a total launch weight of 273 kg and a service life of 3.5 years.

The Italian Space Agency’s COSMO-SkyMed is the largest satellite aboard the Soyuz carrier rocket: its launch weight is 2.2 tonnes. Launched on order from the Italian government, the satellite is intended for the Earth’s radar observation for both military and scientific purposes in any weather conditions.

Russia’s Soyuz carrier rocket will also orbit three small satellites. The ESA’s OPS-SAT is intended to study new technologies in satellite control. The EeySat developed under the program of the French Space Agency (CNES) for students’ projects is primarily designated to study zodiacal light. The ANGELS is the first French nanosatellite intended to receive and transmit information from over 20,000 Argos beacons.