NASA's Planet-Hunting Satellite to Launch on April 18

Rosemary Collier
April 18, 2018

A new NASA satellite created to detect more Earth-like worlds around stars beyond our solar system is due for launch aboard a SpaceX rocket from Florida on Monday, on a quest to expand the known inventory of so-called exoplanets that might harbour life. But mission scientists expect TESS to find even more exoplanets, by surveying a patch of sky hundreds of times larger than the one eyed by Kepler. "Humans have always wondered if we are alone in the universe, and until 25 years ago the only planets we knew were the eight of our solar system, but since then we have found thousands of planets in orbit around other stars, and we think that all the stars in our galaxy must have their own family of planets", he said.

TESS's prime mission is to survey up to 200,000 stars for a period of two years, with the goal of finding potential exoplanets that might be orbiting them.

The satellite is about the size of a refrigerator and comes with solar-panel wings and four special cameras.

A total of 2 lakh stars have been pre-selected as being relatively nearby, for TESS to scan with some stars being only dozens of light years away from Earth.

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The new planet hunting satellite will be launched by Elon Musk's company Space X on Monday at Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida.

NASA predicts that TESS could find more than 50 Earth-sized planets and up to 500 planets less than twice the size of the Earth. "To me, the most exciting part of any mission is the unexpected result, the one that nobody saw coming".

A good numerous new planets will be relatively close - within a few dozen light-years of Earth. This orbit maximizes the amount of sky the TESS spacecraft can image while keeping the spacecraft in a safe thermal and radiation environment. This will alert scientists of new planets ranging from those the size of Earth to massive gas giants.

TESS team partners include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Center, MIT's Lincoln Laboratory, Orbital ATK, Nasa's Ames Research Center, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and the Space Telescope Science Institute.

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"TESS is kind of like a scout", said Natalia Guerrero, deputy manager of TESS Objects of Interest.

Another of the missions to follow up Tess data will be the Swiss-led, European Space Agency (Esa) project called Cheops (CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite). It's like we're making a treasure map: Here are all these cool things.

The Tess strategy will be different on a number of fronts. And if any issues arise, there will be other launch opportunities throughout the month, but not every day.

NASA's Pleiades, an incredibly powerful supercomputer, will be able to keep up and process the 10 billion pixels over three to five days. Some say it's a planet that orbits a star at just the right distance for liquid water to exist on its surface. "So it's got to be there somewhere".

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