NASA’s Next Planet Hunter Will Launch a ‘New Era of Exoplanet Research’
TESS is in the home stretch.
NASA’s next planet-hunting spacecraft — whose full name is the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite — is scheduled to launch on April 16 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
TESS will scrutinize more than 200,000 nearby stars for signs of orbiting worlds, many of which could end up being studied in detail by other observatories, mission team members said. [The Strangest Alien Planets (Gallery)]
“TESS is opening a door for a whole new kind of study,” TESS project scientist Stephen Rinehart, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement. “We’re going to be able to study individual planets and start talking about the differences between planets. The targets TESS finds are going to be fantastic subjects for research for decades to come. It’s the beginning of a new era of exoplanet research.”
If all goes according to plan, the 700-lb. (318 kilograms) TESS will settle into a highly elliptical, 13.7-day orbit that brings it as close to Earth as 67,000 miles (108,000 kilometers) and as far away as 232,000 miles (373,000 km). This orbit — which no spacecraft has ever employed before — is incredibly stable, allowing TESS to stay aloft for decades without performing any engine burns, mission officials have said.