NASA Exoplanet-Hunting Satellite is Preparing For Its Upcoming Launch

Saturday, 17 February 2018 - 3:43PM
Space
NASA
Saturday, 17 February 2018 - 3:43PM
NASA Exoplanet-Hunting Satellite is Preparing For Its Upcoming Launch
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NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Between the distant planets just found by Kepler, the seven Earth-like planets found last year in the TRAPPIST-1 solar system, and many other cases, technology is finally getting to the point where we can discover planets in distant solar systems.

And soon, we might be finding these sorts of exoplanets as a regular occurrence. This April, NASA plans to launch an advanced satellite for tracking down exoplanets, fittingly called the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (or TESS for short), which should prove extremely valuable once it's up in space. It just needs to get there first.



But it's close, as TESS has finally arrived at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to undergo its final preparations before its April launch from nearby Cape Canaveral. Before now, it had been sitting unfinished at a warehouse in Virginia as it spent all of 2017 under assembly, and it will spend the next month in the Kennedy Space Center's Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (or "PHSF", one of NASA's less glamorous acronyms).

Once TESS is beyond our atmosphere, it will use four wide-field cameras to constantly scan more than 200,000 nearby or especially bright stars for traces of exoplanets. It will specifically look for transit events, which are dips in a star's brightness caused by passing planets, the method we normally use to find tiny exoplanets until our telescope technology improves by several magnitudes.

The soon-to-launch James Webb Space Telescope will help observe these exoplanets once it knows where to look, but it'll need TESS to find them first. And it won't be up in space until 2019 anyways.




Initially, the launch of TESS was supposed to happen next month on March 20, 2018, but it was delayed at the request of SpaceX, since TESS will be launched into space on one of the aerospace company's Falcon 9 rockets. SpaceX apparently felt like their hardware wouldn't be ready in time to launch TESS, perhaps because they were busy focusing on their recent Falcon Heavy launch that sent Elon Musk's car into space.

But everything seems to be running smoothly again, so we should only have to wait one extra month before we track down more exoplanets. Considering we could very well be living on one of these planets in the future, provided we find a nearby one that's similar to Earth, it's worth the effort to track them down.
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