Searching For Exoplanetary Transits

Imaging sensor technology from Teledyne is at the heart of the European Space Agency (ESA) CHEOPS missions - CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite, that commenced science operations in April 2020. CHEOPS will carry out an unprecedented study by measuring and characterizing the exact size of exoplanets (planets in other solar systems) to determine their bulk density. The CHEOPS mission payload is based around a single frame transfer backside-illuminated charge-coupled device (CCD), supplied by Teledyne e2v.

The first image returned by CHEOPS, referred to as a “perfect blur”, was of a target star located around 150 light-years away. The intentionally blurry image is a product of the specially designed telescope optics, which are deliberately defocused to maximise the precision of CHEOPS’ measurements.

Artist rendering of ESA/CHEOPS satellite.

CHEOPS image of star HD 88111

CHEOPS image of star HD 88111 Copyright: ESA/Airbus/CHEOPS Mission Consortium.

CHEOPS, a Cosmic Vision mission of the European Space Agency to answer the question “What are the conditions for planet formation and the emergence of life”, will produce ultrahigh precision photometry of exoplanetary transits by characterizing transiting exoplanets orbiting known bright host stars. By unveiling transiting exoplanets with high potential for in-depth characterisation, CHEOPS will provide suitable targets for future instruments suited to the spectroscopic characterisation of exoplanetary atmospheres.

By targeting stars located anywhere on the sky which are bright enough for precise radial velocity follow-up, CHEOPS will provide a uniquely large sample of small planets with well-measured radii, enabling robust bulk density estimates needed to test theories of planet formation and evolution.

The device selected for the CHEOPS mission was done so in part based on proven heritage and reliability in space. The CCD47-20 image sensor is possibly the most used image sensor for space imaging missions, to date.

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Teledyne Imaging Charge-Coupled Device