Rocket Glitch Delays Launch of European Mission to Hunt Alien Planets

The European Space Agency's exoplanet-hunting Characterising Exoplanets Satellite (CHEOPS) is prepared for launch on an Arianespace Soyuz rocket.
The European Space Agency's exoplanet-hunting Characterising Exoplanets Satellite (CHEOPS) is prepared for launch on an Arianespace Soyuz rocket. (Image credit: ESA - M. Pedoussaut)

The European launch provider Arianespace postponed the flight of a new spacecraft designed to hunt alien planets and four other satellites today (Dec 17) due to a glitch with the mission's rocket. 

An Arianespace Soyuz rocket was expected to launch the European Space Agency's CHEOPS exoplanet mission (short for Characterising Exoplanets Satellite) and four other satellites from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana at 3:54 a.m. EST (0854 GMT). But 85 minutes before launch, something went wrong, stalling the countdown. 

"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," Arianespace representatives said in a statement

A new launch date will be announced once it is determined, the company said. 

Related: 7 Ways to Discover Alien Planets

The European Space Agency will use the CHEOPS spacecraft to study star systems already known to host alien planets. The mission aims to follow-up on past discoveries to better understand the alien worlds around distant stars. 

In addition to CHEOPS, the Soyuz rocket is carrying four other payloads for Arianespace customers. The include the following below. 

  • COSMO-SkyMed Second Generation: An Earth observation satellite for the Italian Space Agency. 
  • OPS-SAT: A small cubesat billed as "the world’s first free-for-use, in-orbit test bed for new software, applications and techniques in satellite control," according to Arianespace. It was built for ESA by the company Tyvak.
  • EyeSat: A cubesat for the French space agency CNES to study the zodiacal light, photograph the Milky Way and serve as a testbed for students.
  • ANGELS: Short for Argos Néo on a Generic Economical and Light Satellite, this nanosatellite for the French CNES space agency and the Hemeria industrial group is the first of its kind in France. It "collects and determines the position of low-power signals and messages sent by the 20,000 ARGOS beacons now in service worldwide," according to Arianespace. 

Arianespace's upcoming launch is expected to be the ninth and final mission in 2019 for the company.

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.