The debut launch of the Soyuz 2-1b rocket carried ESA’s COROT space telescope into orbit today. The rocket lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakstan at 1423 GMT (9:23 am EST). The Fregat upper stage successfully put the spacecraft into its final orbit about 50 minutes later.
This was the first deployment of the new Soyuz 2-1b launcher, which features a more powerful third-stage engine and a digital control system. These will be the launchers that will be used when Soyuz rockets start launching from the Guiana Space Centre.
The COROT stands for “Convection Rotation and Planetary Transits”. The satellite is equipped with a powerful instrument that allows it to precisely measure the brightness of stars, to measure acoustic waves that ripple across the surface of stars, as well as to search for extrasolar planets. It will be able to monitor about 120,000 stars, watching for tiny dips in brightness as planets move across their faces.