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article image'TESS' to launch exoplanet-hunting mission next week

By Karen Graham     Apr 10, 2018 in Science
TESS, NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, is scheduled to launch from Florida next week to begin a two-year search for Earth-like planets around other stars. Liftoff is currently set for April 16 at 6:32 p.m. EDT (22:32 UTC).
The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is an Explorer-class planet finder and will be used to conduct the first-ever spaceborne all-sky transit survey, mapping over 85 percent of the sky over the next two years. TESS has been selected by NASA as an Astrophysics Explorer mission.
And while TESS will be identifying planets ranging from Earth-sized to gas giants while orbiting a wide range of stellar types and orbital distances, the satellite's primary mission is to detect small planets with bright host stars in the solar neighborhood so that detailed investigations of the planets and their atmospheres can be performed.
TESS will use the "Transit" method in its search
Like the older Kepler and K2 missions, TESS will also use the Transit method to find exoplanets. This means TESS will be watching for dips in stars' brightnesses when planets pass in front of them.
NASA's Kepler space telescope has already found almost two-thirds of the 3,700 known exoplanets to date, according to Space.com.
The integration of the spacecraft with TESS’s four wide-field cameras  built at MIT  inside a ther...
The integration of the spacecraft with TESS’s four wide-field cameras, built at MIT, inside a thermal vacuum chamber at Orbital ATK where the survey satellite was tested for a month in December and January of 2017.
NASA
If you're wondering why we need another space telescope that is just like Kepler - Here's the big difference. Most of the planets Kepler found were between 300 and 3,000 light years away, making them really tough targets for follow up observations.
TESS, on the other hand, will trade the Kepler's higher resolution imaging for a bigger viewing area, shifting the search to brighter, closer stars between 30 and 300 light years away.
One big advantage to this type of observational mission will be that ground-based telescopes and the James Webb space telescope - which is now scheduled to launch in 2020, will be able to follow up on these discoveries to determine masses, densities, and atmospheric compositions of the new planets.
George Ricker, the principal investigator of the TESS mission and director of MIT's CCD imaging laboratory, told Popular Mechanics that the new haul of planets—and especially nearby worlds—could be staggering. “It’s quite possibly going to be 10 to 20 thousand new planets."
TESS will observe the northern skies first  and then the southern skies. The survey strips will over...
TESS will observe the northern skies first, and then the southern skies. The survey strips will overlap near the celestial poles, creating pockets of sky that will have longer observation times. Conveniently, the patches of sky that will be observed the most by TESS are also in ideal viewing locations for the future James Webb Space Telescope, which will be able to study planets that TESS finds in more detail.
NASA/MIT
A few facts about the TESS mission
One interesting tidbit is that TESS will be accomplishing its mission from an unusually high vantage point - a highly elliptical orbit that no other spacecraft has ever occupied, according to mission officials. This high-Earth orbit (HEO) will give TESS an unobstructed view for continuous light curves and two 13.7-day orbits per observation sector.
The science equipment onboard TESS includes four wide-field-of-view CCD cameras, each with a 24 X 24-degree field-of-view and a 100 mm effective pupil diameter. The lens assembly comes with 7 optical elements.
The TESS aircraft is a Heritage Orbital LEOStar-2 spacecraft bus. TESS will map the Northern Hemisphere in the first year and the Southern Hemisphere during its second year of the mission.
“Eyes on Exoplanets” will fly you to any planet you wish—as long as it s far beyond our solar ...
“Eyes on Exoplanets” will fly you to any planet you wish—as long as it's far beyond our solar system. This fully rendered 3D universe is scientifically accurate, allowing you to zoom in for a close look at more than 1,000 exotic planets known to orbit distant stars.
NASA's Eyes
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has a really cool app that can be downloaded to your computer or iPad that will give you a tour of many of the exoplanets discovered by Kepler. Just go to NASA's Eyes and get started on an interesting journey.
More about TESS, Kepler, NASA, exoplanet hunter, Science
 
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