NASA announced the launch of its new satellite to hunt exoplanets with the potential to harbor alien life, on April 14, 2018.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration revealed that the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), is expected to be launched on April 16, 2018, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The satellite was developed by scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the U.S., which aimed to discover at least 50 Earth-sized exoplanets.
George Ricker, TESS principal investigator said “We expect TESS will discover a number of planets whose atmospheric compositions, which hold potential clues to the presence of life, could be precisely measured by future observers.”
The spacecraft set to orbit around the Earth for 13.7-days, with the help of the gravitational assist from the Moon. Sixty days from the time of the launch, further following tests of its instruments, the satellite will begin its initial two-year mission. The spacecraft is designed as small as a refrigerator and has the potential to carry four cameras that are made to survey the nearest, brightest stars in the sky for signs of passing planets.
TESS will spend two years scanning the entire sky, which includes at the most 20 million stars. During the first year, the satellite will map 13 sectors encompassing the southern sky, while during the second year it will map 13 sectors of the northern sky. The aim of the spacecraft is to look for a phenomenon called transit. This is when a planet passes in front of its star, causing a periodic and regular dip in the star’s brightness.
Scientists hope to find exoplanets close enough to our own that, once identified by TESS, other telescopes can be used to zoom in and detect atmospheres, characterize atmospheric conditions, and look for signs of habitability.
“TESS is kind of like a scout. We’re on this scenic tour of the whole sky, and in some ways we have no idea what we will see. It’s like we’re making a treasure map,” said Natalia Guerrero, deputy manager of TESS Objects of Interest.
The team expects that the satellite will reestablish contact within the first week, which will be the time during which it will turn on all its instruments and cameras. A commissioning phase will then go on for 60 days, as engineers at NASA and MIT calibrate the instruments and monitor the satellite’s trajectory and performance. TESS will then begin collecting and downlinking images of the sky, which scientists will convert into light curves to indicate the changing brightness of a star over time.