Spaceflight Now Home

Spaceflight Now +

Premium video content for our Spaceflight Now Plus subscribers.

STS-104: ISS airlock
Space shuttle Atlantis' STS-104 mission in July 2001 delivered the $164 million Joint Airlock to the International Space Station. The module, named Quest, gave the outpost a new doorway for American and Russian spacewalks. The five Atlantis astronauts narrate the highlights of their mission in this post-flight film.

 Full Coverage

Astronaut practice
The space shuttle Discovery astronauts visit Kennedy Space Center for a practice countdown and emergency training drills. Watch some highlights from the activities.

 Full Coverage

GPS 2R-16 launch
The Boeing Delta 2 rocket launches from Cape Canaveral Nov. 17 on another mission to replenish the satellite constellation for the Global Positioning System.

 Full Coverage

Discovery on the pad
The space shuttle Discovery is rolled to pad 39B for the STS-116 launch to the space station.

 Full Coverage

Joining tank and SRBs
The space shuttle Discovery is hoisted high into the Vehicle Assembly Building and mated with its external fuel tank and solid rocket boosters.

 Hoisted | Attached

Discovery moves to VAB
Space shuttle Discovery makes an evening move October 31 from its processing hangar to the Vehicle Assembly Building for mating with an external fuel tank and twin solid rocket boosters in preparation for the STS-116 mission.


Final Hubble servicing
The objectives of the just-approved final Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission are detailed and the anticipated science from the new instruments to be installed are detailed in this briefing from Goddard Space Flight Center.

 Full Coverage

Meet Hubble astronauts
The crew for the final Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission will be led by Scott Altman, with pilot Greg C. Johnson, robot arm operator Megan McArthur and spacewalkers Andrew Feustel, Mike Good, John Grunsfeld and Mike Massimino. The astronauts meet the press in this news briefing from Johnson Space Center.

 Full Coverage

Become a subscriber
More video

Planet-hunting space telescope launched

Posted: December 27, 2006

Credit: CNES
A small European satellite began its mission Wednesday to peer into the blinding light of nearby stars in an attempt to discover the first rocky planets outside our solar system.

The craft was launched at 1423 GMT (9:23 a.m. EST) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Soyuz rocket and attached Fregat upper stage successfully deployed the COROT spacecraft into orbit about 50 minutes after liftoff.

The flight was the first use of the new Soyuz 2-1b model of the venerable rocket. The new version is the second step in an overhaul of the booster, and includes a more powerful RD-0124 third stage engine and a digital control system already tested.

The upgrades will help facilitate launches of the Soyuz rocket from Europe's spaceport in French Guiana by 2009.

COROT, which stands for Convection Rotation and planetary Transits, will spend the next two months undergoing a comprehensive test and checkout phase before it is declared operational in February or March.

Built by Alcatel Alenia Space, the nearly 1,400-pound satellite will operate in a precisely polar orbit with an altitude of about 557 miles and an inclination of 90 degrees, according to the European Space Agency.

COROT's science team will spend most of their time on two primary mission objectives for the satellite.

Led by the French national space agency, CNES, the two-and-a-half year mission will be the first dedicated to searching for mysterious worlds beyond our solar system.

In addition to seeking out extrasolar planets, COROT will also measure seismic waves traveling across the surface of stars in an attempt to learn more about stars' internal processes. Studying these vibrations can help astronomers determine the star's mass, age and chemical composition.

COROT carries a 10.6-inch telescope and a visible camera that will image more than 120,000 Sun-like stars in the Milky Way galaxy during its mission to find extrasolar planets. Approximately one hundred stars will be analyzed to study stellar vibrations.

The science equipment will look for signs of planets by detecting occasional oscillations in the brightness of stars. The change in a star's brightness is often a tell-tale sign of a planet passing in front of the star.

Since the confirmation of the discovery of the first exoplanet in 1995, more than 200 other planets have also been found orbiting other stars. All of the planets found so far have been giant Jupiter-like gaseous planets tightly circling their parent stars. Most of these so-called "hot Jupiters" have been found using ground-based telescopes.

Without the blurring effects of Earth's atmosphere, COROT's telescope could drastically reduce the threshold for detection of extrasolar worlds.

Scientists expect up to several dozen rocky planets a few times larger than Earth could be found during COROT's mission. Astronomers also predict many more discoveries of large gas giants.

"COROT could detect so many planets of this new type, together with plenty of the old type, that astronomers will be able to make statistical studies of them," said Malcolm Fridlund, ESA's project scientist for COROT.

COROT is designed to seek out terrestrial planets that complete an orbit within 50 days, placing them very close to their parent stars. Many of the targets for COROT's planet-finding mission are red dwarf stars with relatively low heat output.

"COROT will provide the first mapping of rocky planets around other stars," Fridlund said.

The mission is split into 6-month phases, during which the spacecraft points toward objects near the central portion of the galaxy or toward stars away from the center of the Milky Way. Each phase is divided into two observing runs of 150 and 20 days, according to CNES.

The longer observing periods will provide the best opportunities to search for Earth-like rocky planets, while the 20-day observing runs are best suited to finding gas giants.

COROT's partners include the European Space Agency and scientists from Germany, Spain, Belgium, Austria and Brazil.

Concept studies for the project began in 1994, followed six years later by the final decision to proceed with the COROT mission. A cooperation agreement was signed in June 2001 to bring ESA into the program.

"ESA has been working for a long time towards the detection of Earth-like worlds around other stars," said Sergio Volonte, head of ESA's Science Planning and Community Coordination Office.

COROT will be joined in 2008 by NASA's Kepler probe, which carries a 37.4-inch telescope that should be able to spot rocky planets even smaller than the size of Earth. Scientists believe Kepler could discover up to 50 extrasolar planets no larger than Earth during its four-year mission, according to NASA.

Several more advanced planet-hunting missions are being assessed by U.S. and European astronomers for launch in the next decade.