NASA’s exoplanet hunting satellite TESS has arrived at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for final testing nearly after a month’s delay.
The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) was originally scheduled for a launch on March 20 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, but that’s not going to happen with NASA announcing a new launch date of no later than April 16. The new launch dates haven’t been finalized yet as U.S. Air Force’s Eastern Range is yet to approve the launch.
Once in its position TESS will be scanning the sky with four wide-field astronomical cameras looking for periodic dips in the brightness of more than 200,000 of the nearest and brightest stars. The dimming is a tell-tale sign of a planet passing in front of the star.
TESS will be positioned in an egg-shaped preliminary orbit stretching as far as 155,000 miles (250,000 kilometers) from Earth. Once it separates from Falcon 9’s second stage, thrusters on the satellite will boost TESS to the farthest arc of its orbit to intercept the moon. After that it will swing by the moon and garnering momentum using lunar gravity it will set itself on course towards the final operating orbit. A final major maneuver will steer the satellite on a path taking it around the planet once every two weeks in a 2:1 resonance with the moon, with distances ranging between 67,000 miles (108,000 kilometers) and 233,000 miles (376,000 kilometers) from Earth.
Astronomers anticipate a number of exoplanet discoveries using the data collected by TESS. The satellite will be identifying the prime targets which will then be followed-up by the James Webb Space Telescope that is set for launch next year. Webb’s cameras and spectrometers will be capable of measuring the chemical make-up of the planets’ atmospheres, telling astronomers which of the worlds might be habitable.