Discovering new worlds
The University of Bern causes a stir in 2019 both in the field of particle physics and space exploration. On December 18, the CHEOPS space telescope from Bern successfully embarks on its journey into space.

Matter and the universe

CHEOPS – in search of potential habitable planets

CHEOPS stands for “CHaracterising ExOPlanets Satellite” and is used to examine already known exoplanets to determine, among other things, whether the conditions on a particular planet can sustain life. It is a joint mission between the European Space Agency ESA and Switzerland that is under the leadership of the University of Bern in cooperation with the University of Geneva. The mission is the first of ESA’s newly created "S-class missions" (small class missions with an ESA budget under 50 million euros).

Under the leadership of the University of Bern and ESA, a consortium of more than a hundred scientists and engineers from eleven European states was involved in constructing the satellite over five years.

Successful rocket launch

CHEOPS began its journey into space on Wednesday, December 18, 2019 on board a Soyuz Fregat rocket from the European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. Since then, it has been orbiting the Earth in roughly an hour and a half at an altitude of 700 kilometers following the terminator.

Is there life elsewhere?

CHEOPS measures the changes in brightness of a star when a planet passes in front of it. The values measured are used to derive the size of the planet and determine its density from existing data.

In this way a lot of information can be found out about these planets – indicating for example if they are predominantly rocky or gassy, or perhaps harbor significant oceans. This in turn is an important step toward determining whether the conditions on a particular planet can sustain life.

Did you know?

On board the satellite are two plaques with 2,748 miniaturized children's drawings from a drawing competition initiated by the University of Bern.

Knowledge and technology transfer

The Swiss Confederation participates in the CHEOPS telescope within the PRODEX program (PROgramme de Développement d'EXpériences scientifiques) of the European Space Agency ESA. Through this program, national contributions for science missions can be developed and built by project teams from research and industry.

This transfer of knowledge and technology between science and industry ultimately also gives Switzerland a structural competitive advantage as a business location – and enables technologies, processes and products to flow into other markets and thus generate added value for our economy.

“CHEOPS is a highlight in the 50-year success story of Swiss science and industry on the front line of space exploration,” says Willy Benz, Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Bern and Principal Investigator of the CHEOPS mission

Bernese space exploration

Part of the world's elite since the first moon landing

When Buzz Aldrin became the second man to step out of the lunar module on July 21, 1969, the first thing he did was to unfurl the University of Bern’s solar wind sail and plant it into the ground on the moon, even before doing the same with the American flag. This Solarwind Composition Experiment (SWC), which was planned and evaluated by Prof. Dr. Johannes Geiss and his team at the Physics Institute of the University of Bern, was a first major highlight in the history of Bernese space exploration.

Bernese space exploration has been part of the world’s elite ever since. When viewed in terms of figures, it reveals an impressive balance sheet: Instruments have flown into the upper atmosphere and ionosphere with rockets 25 times (1967-1993), into the stratosphere on balloon flights 9 times (1991-2008), more than 30 instruments have accompanied space probes on their missions, and with CHEOPS, the University of Bern is sharing responsibility with ESA for an entire mission.

The successful work of the Department of Space Research and Planetary Sciences at the University of Bern’s Physics Institute was consolidated by the founding of a university competence center, the Center for Space and Habitability (CSH). The Swiss National Science Foundation also awarded the University of Bern the National Centre for Competence in Research (NCCR) PlanetS, which it manages together with the University of Geneva.