TESS, or the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, hitched a ride into space today atop SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, and is en route to its orbit, which stretches all the way to the moon.
The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) rose off the pad atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 6:51 p.m. EDT (2251 GMT) and deploying into Earth orbit 49 minutes later. The aim of TESS is to create a common catalog of exoplanets, and other telescopes will be able on its basis to focus on more detailed analysis.
It is also tasked with catching the dips in brightness that occur when orbiting planets traverse their faces.
"TESS is equipped with four highly sensitive cameras, which will allow you to monitor nearly the entire sky", says George Ricker (George Ricker), principal investigator of the mission, of mit, who heads the project.
TESS will be watching for phenomena called transits.
"It's going to more than double the number that have been seen and detected by Kepler".
NASA's Kepler Space Telescope found more than 2,600 exoplanets, most orbiting faint stars between 300 and 3,000 light-years from Earth, using this same method of watching for transits. TESS will use four unique wide-field cameras to map 13 sectors encompassing the southern sky during its first year of observations and 13 sectors of the northern sky during the second year, altogether covering 85% of the sky.
"TESS is the first step toward finding habitable planets", mission project scientist Stephen Rinehart said during a briefing. "So, the kind that have the potential for being the terrestrial-type worlds that we're most interested in". We just had a flawless countdown and ideal launch of the TESS mission.
Sara Seager, another MIT researcher who is working on the satellite, said TESS may enlighten us as to whether Earth has a twin planet out there.
Meanwhile, Ariel's principal investigator Giovanna Tinetti from University College London, U.K. noted, "Tess will be extremely important for us".
According to NASA officials, the TESS mission is capped at $200 million, not including launch costs, which reportedly added another $87 million.
If TESS is able to find small planets that are not exposed to extreme temperatures due to their orbits, then NASA's powerful observatory, the James Webb Space Telescope, would be able to conduct a closer examination, scouring the planets for signs of life, like water vapor, oxygen, methane and carbon dioxide.