Published: Fri, April 20, 2018
Sci-tech | By Jackie Newman

NASA launches spacecraft created to find planets that might support life

NASA launches spacecraft created to find planets that might support life

At 7:53 p.m. EDT, the twin solar arrays that will power the spacecraft successfully deployed.

TESS, or Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, is created to detect small planets orbiting bright host stars by measuring small dips in light, which occur when planets pass in front of a star.

A tweet from SpaceX, which operates the Falcon 9 rocket set to take the satellite to space, indicated that delays were required to conduct analysis of the rocket's guidance, navigation and control system.

The mission is low-cost by space exploration standards - £237m - and Wednesday's launch went without a hitch.

The telescope is expected to discover thousands of distant planets, including rocky and habitable worlds, around nearby bright stars across the sky during its 2-year primary mission.

The planned launch of TESS comes on the heels of NASA delaying the liftoff of its hotly-anticipated James Webb Space Telescope.

"One critical piece for the science return of TESS is the high data rate associated with its orbit".

This orbit is very stable, letting the spacecraft remain relatively unaffected by orbital debris and space radiation, as well as allowing for easy communications with mission team members on the ground during the close passes to Earth.

'Tess will tell us where to look at and when to look, ' said the mission's chief scientist, George Ricker of Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

NASA Launch
The Hindu explains: NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite

TESS, which stands for Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, is going to search for exoplanets that have the conditions for life to flourish on them. TESS is budgeted for one year of ground work and two years in space, though its mission life can be extended up to almost two decades, which would greatly increase the amount of data gained from the mission. It carries 4 wide-field cameras that give it a field-of-view that covers 85 percent of the entire sky, a significantly bigger area than previous space telescopes.

"The types of planets that Tess will detect are revealed by a process called a transit".

The mission will explore a large number of stars based on transits of planets against the background stars.

Currently, the total exoplanet census stands at more than 3700, with another 4500 on the not-yet-verified list.

While Kepler has focused on stars thousands of light-years away, Tess will concentrate on our stellar neighbours which are dozens or hundreds of light-years away.

What will TESS find?

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket seen carrying the Tess planet-hunting spacecraft into orbit. Image credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

The technique it will use is fundamentally the same as that employed by NASA's long-running and highly successful Kepler mission.

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