According to a statement from the Portuguese space agency Portugal Space, the Institute of Astrophysics and Space Sciences and Deimos Engenharia "lead" the scientific component of Cheops.
The Portuguese companies FreziteHP and LusoSpace were also involved, and the first designed and produced the protections that will ensure that the equipment withstands the extreme thermal amplitude of the space.
Find out more about exoplanets
“The Cheops mission will measure the size of exoplanets (planets outside the solar system) with great accuracy, find out if the exoplanets have moons, if they have rings, and also open a door to the unknown,” explains Nuno Santos, a researcher at the Institute. of Astrophysics and Space Sciences and the University of Porto, in a statement.
The telescope was designed to operate for about three years, analyzing the size, atmosphere and other variables of 300 of the 4,000 exoplanets so far identified, those with a mass between that of Earth and Neptune.
When Cheops reaches 700 km altitude without interference from the atmosphere, it will use its telescope to measure very small variations of light from these planets that revolve around other stars. To achieve this, the telescope is able to measure brightness changes in the order of 0.0001%.
Key moments of a mission
Cheops is not alone on board the Soyuz-Fregat rocket, but is accompanied by an Italian satellite, Cosmo-SkyMed, which is actually the main passenger, and three CubeSats satellites, including ESA's OPS-SAT. They are all "mounted" on top of the three-story rocket that departs from the South American Kourou Spaceport, scheduled for 8:54 am Lisbon time.
The separation of the various modules is phased, and the initial plan shows that Cosmo-SkyMed will split from the rocket at 9:17, and Cheops will only split at 11:19. By 1:05 pm the OPS-SAT is scheduled to be separated and at 1:11 pm all other CubeSats must be separated from the rocket and in orbit.
From Porto to Madrid and then to Kourou
Building a satellite is precision work, but there are many "hands" involved, and several pieces to develop to assemble before reaching the end result. Some of them were produced in Porto at Frezite High Performance, which developed the thermal protections used in the Cheops optical telescope.
“It's like a tailor's job. We take the measurements, make the standards and based on these we produce the 'clothes', then we take a test to see if everything is ok. If all is well, we move forward with the installation. ”Explains Miguel Santos, who led a team of six from the Portuguese company Frezite High Performance.
The company, which has been working since 2007 on ESA missions, designed and produced multi-layer insulation (MLI) protections that allow the telescope structure, radiator and optical table to withstand the extreme thermal amplitude of the ESA. space,
which varies between high temperatures from the sun or absolute zero (about -270 °) on the opposite side of the sun.
From Porto this "garment" went to Madrid, to the center of Airbus Space and Defense, where the Cheops was "assembled" before following "encapsulated" to South America.
This is one of the moments of satellite mounting.
Mission control with technology from Deimos Engineering
Once launched into space, Cheops will be available to observe the list of exoplanets defined by the mission's scientific team, composed of researchers associated with the consortium, who will have access to 80% of the satellite's observation time, which has a mission of three years. It is estimated that there will be between three and five thousand requests, ranging from observing a star at a given time and date or monitoring a star for weeks, for example.
This is the area of intervention of the Institute of Astrophysics and Space Sciences and Deimos Engineering, which have developed "two of the most important components of the Cheops science center, the main one being the planning system, which will collect all observation requests from the scientific community over the lifetime of the satellite, ”explains Nuno Ávila, managing director of Deimos Engenharia.
The system allows you to “optimally organize” all requests “so that the telescope can ensure as many observations as possible over its lifetime”.
The role of the Institute of Astrophysics and Space Sciences in this area was very relevant. When they were called by the consortium that developed Cheops to participate in this new mission, they decided to involve Deimos Engenharia as a reference in this area. “Together we got the funding we need to participate in the mission with a leadership role,” explains Nuno Santos,
The researcher, who represents Portugal on the Cheops Mission Board, recalls that "we already know about 4,000 planets orbiting other stars, we already know that the solar system is not unique in the universe, but there are many open questions."
Nuno has been studying the exoplanets for years, working to make humanity “able to detect Earth-like planets orbiting other Sun-like stars, study in detail their composition, atmosphere, and one day eventually discover another planet that has signs of presence of
Nuno Santos says the AI entered the Cheops mission “for scientific networking” achieved by engaging in the creation of the Espresso Spectrograph, an instrument installed in the VLT megatelescope in 2017 and known as the “next generation planet hunter” – which allows us to measure the mass of the stars.
In addition to the planning system, AI and Deimos have developed the archiving and data dissemination and cataloging system of all information that has been collected from the various stars so that it can be made available to the current and future scientific community. They were also responsible for a significant part of the data reduction and analysis system.
Nuno Ávila and Nuno Santos reinforce the idea that the system developed was based on “knowledge that had already been developed by multiple scientific missions of ESA and Deimos-1 and Deimos-2 satellites”, which the Agency itself explains by the fact that This is a S-Class (Small) mission with a smaller budget and shorter deadlines. This requires the use of technologies that were previously tested in space.
Cheops' scientific team is also attended by researchers Susana Barros, Sérgio Sousa and Olivier Demangeon, who are also researchers from the Institute of Astrophysics, which currently has a team of more than 20 researchers and PhD students working on exoplanets.