Tuesday 17 December 2019 4:59 pm

Software error scuppers space rocket's search for Earth-like planet

An IT glitch has scuppered the launch of a space rocket designed to study exoplanets after the craft’s automated take-off sequence was interrupted.

The Characterising Exoplanet Satellite (Cheops) is a European Space Agency mission dedicated to studying nearby exoplanets, those outside the solar system, in search of a new Earth. It was the first mission of its kind.

European launch provider Arianespace’s chief executive, Stephane Israel, said: “Due to a red at the beginning of the automated sequence of the SYZ launch system, operations are stopped for today.”

“The Soyuz launcher’s automatic sequence for Flight VS23 was interrupted during final countdown operations at 1 hour 25 minutes prior to liftoff on December 17,” the company said.

The satellite was due to launch from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana at 8:54am GMT but the launch will be delayed by at least a day.

The European Space Agency’s director of Science, Günther Hasinger, added: “Unfortunately the Soyuz launch today has been called of [sic] because of a software error in the Fregat upper stage. With this complex mission we will not take any risks. So keep fingers crossed for tomorrow same rime [sic].”

When it launches, Cheops will study 100 of 4,000 already discovered exoplanets’ masses and densities and determine if they are habitable.

The mission will determine if there is a possibility of an Earth-like planet outside our solar system, Swiss astronomer and Nobel Prize winner Didier Queloz told The Associated Press.

“We are one planetary system among many. It’s all about our place in the universe and trying to understand it,” he said, “we know nothing, except that they are there.”

Also aboard the Soyuz-Fregat rocket was an Earth observation spacecraft belonging to the Italian Space Agency. The Cosmo-Skymed Second Generation satellite is a civil and military system capable of observing earth under any weather or light conditions, day or night.