NASA’s TESS Exoplanet Hunter Begins Operations

The next generation NASA exoplanet hunter TESS has begun sciene operations with the first set of data expected later this month.
An illustraion of NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) in space | Image credit: NASA

NASA’s next-generation Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) began searching for undiscovered planets on July 25, 2018. The first set of data from the satellite is expected to be transmitted to Earth this month. It will then transmit new data every 13.5 days, once every time it orbits Earth.

“I’m thrilled that our new planet hunter mission is ready to start scouring our solar system’s neighborhood for new worlds,” said Paul Hertz, NASA Astrophysics division director at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “Now that we know there are more planets than stars in our universe, I look forward to the strange, fantastic worlds we’re bound to discover.”

After being launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 on April 18, 2018, TESS began a series of maneuvers to enter its operating orbit around Earth. Once in its final orbit, ground controllers at NASA began a 60-day instrument testing and inspection phase. After successfully completing the testing phase earlier this month, the satellite began searching for planets orbiting nearby stars.

TESS will spend the next two years monitoring the brightest stars to observe periodic dips in the light emitting from these stars. These events are called transits and indicate that a planet may be passing in front of the star. Once potential new planets have been discovered, this data will be reviewed with various Earth-based and space telescopes to verify their existence. It is expected that during the satellite’s 2-year primary mission, it will identify several thousand potential planets supplying researchers with decades of work.