NASA is all set for the launch of Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, which will search for potentially habitable planets beyond the solar system.
If all goes according to plan, the U.S. space agency’s next exoplanet-hunting spacecraft will blast off in space on April 16 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
TESS is being touted as the successor to the Kepler space telescope, which will be running out of fuel in a couple of months. Launched back in 2009, the Kepler spacecraft is currently orbiting the sun from a distance of 94 million miles away from Earth.
Until now, Kepler has successfully found 2,245 confirmed exoplanets while 2,342 more are awaiting confirmation. The spacecraft was primarily designed to search for Earth-sized exoplanets orbiting their host stars. Once the Kepler spacecraft’s fuel reserves dry out completely, it would continue to stay in orbit but it will lose the ability to send back data to the Earth.
The NASA team is unable to predict the spacecraft’s exact fuel levels in absence of a fuel gauge. So, they are trying to extract as much information from Kepler as possible over the next few months.
According to NASA, the Kepler mission replacement, 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. It will focus on stars that are 30 to 100 times brighter than stars observed by the Kepler space telescope.
TESS will reportedly spend at least two years in the orbit. The satellite’s farthest point from Earth will be 232,000 miles (373,000 kilometers). The closest point in the orbit will be 67,000 miles (108,000 km). The solar-powered spacecraft will have four 100-millimeter-wide cameras that will provide wide fields of view.
The TESS mission is currently managed by the space agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.