NASA and SpaceX launch planet-hunting TESS satellite

19 April, 2018, 06:34 | Author: Kristi Owen
  • Artist concept of TESS in front of a lava planet orbiting its host star

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, is scheduled to launch Monday at 6:32 pm (22:32 GMT) atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

But TESS, the short name for the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, will be taking intelligence into orbit with it, in the form of new equipment, navigational computers, cameras and artificial intelligence that can parse the data it collects.

NASA predicts that TESS will discover 20,000 exoplanets -or planets outside the solar system -including more than 50 Earth-sized planets and up to 500 planets less than twice the size of Earth. With Tess, "our planetary census is going to move in" closer to us, MIT researcher Jenn Burt said Sunday. Every star you see - plus hundreds of thousands, even millions more - will come under the intense stare of NASA's newest planet hunter. Scientists expect TESS to identify thousands of planets in our cosmic backyard, adding to the bounty provided over the past decade by NASA's Kepler Space Telescope.

Less than nine minutes after the mission's blastoff Wednesday, the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket dropped from space, deployed legs and touched down on the deck of a ship floating in the Atlantic Ocean.

It maintained the TESS spacecraft was "in excellent health" and ready for launch.


Scientists will conduct follow-up observations of exoplanet "candidates" using powerful ground- or space-based observatories.

"And until 25 years ago, the only planets we knew about were the eight in our own solar system", said Paul Hertz, director of the Astrophysics Division at NASA headquarters.

The satellite is said to be a discovery machine through which a large number of exoplanets are expected to be discovered. So astronomers want to focus on stars that are vastly brighter and closer to home - close enough for NASA's upcoming James Webb Space Telescope to scrutinize the atmospheres of planets lurking in their sun's shadows. TESS will scan an area 350 times greater than Kepler.

ORBIT: Tess will aim for a unique elongated orbit that passes within 45,000 miles of Earth on one end and as far away as the orbit of the moon on the other end. These are periodic dips in starlight that occur when a planet's orbit takes it in front of its host star.

On April 18, a new telescope with an eye for exoplanets will launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, the first of a coming wave of post-Hubble telescopes that will search the sky for foreign worlds.

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