NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will be launched atop SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket on April 16 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, it has been revealed.
TESS, which will be staying between the moon and the Earth for at least two years, will scan for planets orbiting some of the brightest stars.
George Ricker, who is a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and also the leader of the TESS team, expects that the satellite will help them discover nearly 50 Earth-sized planets within 300 light-years from Earth and study more than 200,000 nearby stars.
“TESS anticipates the discovery of thousands of exoplanets of all sizes around a variety of star types,” the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) noted in a statement.
According to NASA, the solar-powered spacecraft will have four 100-millimeter-wide cameras on board that will provide wide fields of view. The cameras will provide a view of a particular region of the sky for between 27 and 351 days each, before moving on to another area.
TESS will occupy a never-before-used elliptical orbit, called P/2, high above Earth, which is exactly half of the moon’s orbital period. This means that the spacecraft will orbit Earth every 13.7 days. It is when TESS will reach its closest point to Earth (67,000 miles or 108,000 kilometers) that it will transmit data to ground stations. The data transmission process will take around three hours.
In its first year of operation, the NASA spacecraft is expected to map the sky’s entire southern hemisphere and it will then flip to cover the Northern Hemisphere in its second year.
NASA said that TESS will focus on stars that are 30 to 100 times brighter than those stars examined and observed by the Kepler space telescope, which was launched way back in 2009.