European space agency postpones launch of planet-studying mission

Space, station

European space officials have postponed the launch of a three-year mission to study planets in other solar systems less than an hour before it was due to blast off.

The European Space Agency announced that the launch from French Guiana of the Characterising ExOPlanets Satellite, or Cheops, mission, would be delayed by at least a day.

ESA director of science Guenther Hasinger wrote on Twitter that “a software error in the Fregat upper stage” of the Soyuz rocket was responsible for the postponement.

“With this complex mission we will not take any risks,” he added, advising people to “keep fingers crossed for tomorrow” at the same time.

The mission will focus on 100 of the more than 4,000 extrasolar planets discovered so far, to determine in part whether there’s a possibility of an Earth-like planet capable of sustaining life, said Swiss astronomer and Nobel Prize winner Didier Queloz.

“We are one planetary system among many,” he said.

“It’s all about our place in the universe and trying to understand it.”

A space telescope will analyse the exoplanets’ densities and radii and determine whether they have atmospheres, Mr Queloz said.

“We know nothing, except that they are there,” he said.

Once in place, the telescope will focus on bright stars to determine the size of exoplanets as they pass in front of their host star.

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