SpaceX rocket booster lands on floating platform; Tess satellite headed toward orbit

19 April, 2018, 06:08 | Author: Lucy Floyd
  • Artist concept of TESS in front of a lava planet orbiting its host star

NASA's Tess spacecraft embarked Wednesday on a quest to find new worlds around neighboring stars that could support life. Hundreds of thousands of stars will be scrutinized, with the expectation that thousands of exoplanets — planets outside our own solar system — will be revealed right in our cosmic backyard.

"A cool part, from the Australian perspective, is that the first year of TESS's mission will be spent looking at stars in the southern sky", says Horner. TESS will aim to detect this tell-tale drop, potentially discovering thousands of new worlds, from Earth-sized rocky planets to colossal gas giants.

Does life exist beyond Earth? It's not designed for that. The Webb telescope is created to examine the atmospheres of exoplanets to look for traces of oxygen, carbon dioxide, or methane - which could suggest the presence of life.

"This mission TESS is super important for us", Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX's vice president of mission assurance, said during a press briefing ahead of the event.

Tess is the successor to NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, on its last legs after discovering a few thousand exoplanets over the past nine years.

TESS is created to build on the work of its predecessor, the Kepler space telescope, which discovered the bulk of some 3,700 exoplanets documented during the past 20 years and is running out of fuel.

Over the next 2 years, TESS will scan the whole sky piece by piece. Kepler has found more than 5000 exoplanet candidates so far, and confirmed about half of them.

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"It will spend the next 60 days getting to its proper orbit where it will search for unknown worlds beyond our solar system".

TESS will focus on 200,000 pre-selected stars that are relatively nearby and among the brightest as seen from Earth, making them better-suited for sensitive follow-up analysis.

Researchers expect that TESS will find around 20,000 planets to target for future study, Nell says. But those found by Tess should be close enough for mega telescopes in the future to detect any atmospheric signs of life. It will take Tess two weeks to circle Earth.

Further, the spacecraft will move comes within 100,000 km of Earth and be able to look at 170,000 stars.

The mission, SpaceX officials said, was not much different from launches of geostationary orbit communications satellites. The cameras — equipped with wide-angle lenses a mere 4 inches across (10 centimeters) — will be off during the lunar flyby.

The satellite is said to be a discovery machine through which a large number of exoplanets are expected to be discovered. Continuing its efforts to cut the cost of space missions by recovering rockets, SpaceX will attempt to land the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket on a barge - named "Of Course I Still Love You" - in the Atlantic Ocean.


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