SpaceX has successfully launched NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS).
“We are thrilled TESS is on its way to help us discover worlds we have yet to imagine, worlds that could possibly be habitable, or harbor life,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “With missions like the James Webb Space Telescope to help us study the details of these planets, we are ever the closer to discovering whether we are alone in the universe.”
The Falcon 9 carrying the TESS spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 22:51 GMT (18:51 local time) on April 18, 2018. Following a textbook launch, TESS was deployed into a highly elliptical orbit approximately 49 minutes later. At 23:53 GMT, NASA confirmed that the spacecraft’s twin solar arrays had deployed successfully and TESS was operating nominally.
Over the next several weeks, TESS will perform a sequence of six thrusters burns progressively elongating its orbit to reach the moon. The moon will provide the spacecraft with a gravity assist to help it into its 13.7-day operating orbit around Earth. Once in its final orbit, controllers will begin performing a 60-day instrument testing and inspection phase.
Once the instrument testing and inspection is complete, TESS will begin a two-year survey mission searching for planets relatively close to Earth orbiting bright stars. To accomplish this, TESS will look for dips in the brightness of stars. These dips are a tell-tale sign that the star has planets orbiting around it. The intensity of the dip can then be used to calculate the approximate size of the planet.
TESS is expected to catalog thousands of potential planets. Once cataloged, researchers will reexamine the planets with various ground-based and space telescopes to study them in more detail. The inspection of planets discovered by TESS will likely keep researchers busy for decades.
Featured Image Credit: SpaceX