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posted by chromas on Wednesday April 18 2018, @09:22PM   Printer-friendly
from the guarding-tess dept.

Update: SpaceX: All systems and weather are go for Falcon 9's launch of @NASA_TESS today at 6:51 p.m. EDT, or 22:51 UTC.

Update 2: SpaceX's live coverage starts at 6:36 PM EDT (22:36 UTC).

Update 3: TESS successfully separated from Falcon 9 and was deployed into a highly elliptical orbit.

NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission is set to launch on April 16 at 6:32 PM ET (22:32 UTC) aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from SLC-40, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The spacecraft was developed by MIT with seed funding in Google back in 2008. The spacecraft will perform an all-sky survey using four 24° × 24° wide field-of-view cameras that can image a total of 24° × 96° (2,304 square degrees) of sky every 30 minutes (the Sun and Moon are only about 0.2 deg2 to Earth-based observers).

TESS will use a unique "P/2" 2:1 lunar resonant orbit to image stars in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. The survey will image 26 observation sectors of 24° × 96° each, with some overlap at the ecliptic poles. The total survey area will be about 400 times larger than the area searched by the Kepler mission.

TESS will study about 500,000 stars, including the nearest 1,000 red dwarfs, with the goal of finding at least 3,000 new transiting exoplanet candidates. The spacecraft will study F, G, K and M type stars (spanning from F5 to M5), some of which are 30-100 times brighter than stars surveyed by the Kepler spacecraft. Many of the stars will be much closer to Earth than stars surveyed by Kepler, allowing for easier confirmation and follow-up measurements of exoplanets. 30-minute full-frame exposures will be used to search for transient events such as supernovae, star flares, and gamma-ray bursts.

Each observation sector will only be viewed for 27 days (at least in the initial phase of the mission), which will limit the exoplanets seen to those with shorter orbital periods. Potentially habitable exoplanet candidates will likely be found around red dwarfs rather than Sun-like stars. However, TESS's own orbit should remain stable for decades, which could mean that its mission will be extended to allow for a greater variety of exoplanets to be found.

NASA's Kepler spacecraft is running out of fuel and may not be operational beyond 2018, leaving TESS to be Earth's premier exoplanet hunter in space. The European Space Agency's (ESA) CHaracterising ExOPlanets Satellite (CHEOPS) will launch in late 2018. It will provide precise radii for exoplanets with known masses, and can follow-up on TESS observations to provide suitable targets for the James Webb Space Telescope. In 2026, ESA will launch the PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (PLATO) space observatory, which will search for planetary transits around 300,000 to 1 million stars. PLATO will study bright stars of magnitudes between 4 and 11, and will be rotated by 90 degrees every 3 months, allowing it to continuously survey a patch of sky and discover exoplanets with longer orbital periods than TESS will.

There is no direct link available yet, but live footage of the launch should be available through SpaceX's YouTube channel.

Also at NYT, The Verge, MIT News, and EarthSky.

Original Submission

Related Stories

SpaceX Valued at $25 Billion... and More 18 comments

SpaceX has raised $507 million, bringing the company's valuation to about $25 billion. That makes SpaceX the third most valuable venture-backed startup behind Uber and Airbnb, and also raises Elon Musk's worth by $1.4 billion to about $21.3 billion. SpaceX will launch NASA's TESS spacecraft on Monday, and plans to launch Bangabandhu-1 on May 5 using the Block 5 version of Falcon 9.

While SpaceX is planning to launch a record 30 missions in 2018, and possibly 50 missions in upcoming years, SpaceX expects the bulk of its future revenue to come from its upcoming Starlink satellite internet service. Internal documents show an estimate of $30 billion in revenue from Starlink and $5 billion from launches by 2025.

SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell has said that the company's BFR could be used for 100-person city-to-city flights within a decade:

A lot can (and probably will) change in a decade. But the idea is that a very large rocket, capable of carrying about 100 people, could fly like an aircraft and do point-to-point travel on Earth much faster than a plane — halfway across the globe in about 30 to 40 minutes, Shotwell said, landing on a pad five to 10 kilometers outside of a city center. Shotwell estimated the ticket cost would be somewhere between economy and business class on a plane — so, likely in the thousands of dollars for transoceanic travel. "But you do it in an hour."

"I'm personally invested in this one," she said, "because I travel a lot, and I do not love to travel. And I would love to get to see my customers in Riyadh, leave in the morning and be back in time to make dinner."

How could travel by rocket cost so little? Shotwell said the efficiency would come from being fast enough to be able to operate a route a dozen or so times a day, whereas a long-haul airplane often only does one flight per day.

She also said that the company could enable a manned mission to Mars within a decade. Boeing's CEO is also "hopeful" that humans will set foot on Mars within a decade.

Finally, Elon Musk has showed off an image of the main body tool/manufacturing mold for the BFR. BFR has a height of 106 meters and diameter of 9 meters, compared to a height of 70 meters and diameter of 3.7 meters for Falcon 9.

Original Submission

NASA's TESS Receives Gravity Assist From the Moon, Snaps Test Image 2 comments

NASA's new planet hunter snaps initial test image, swings by Moon toward final orbit

NASA's next planet hunter, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), is one step closer to searching for new worlds after successfully completing a lunar flyby on May 17. The spacecraft passed about 5,000 miles from the Moon, which provided a gravity assist that helped TESS sail toward its final working orbit.

As part of camera commissioning, the science team snapped a two-second test exposure using one of the four TESS cameras. The image, centered on the southern constellation Centaurus, reveals more than 200,000 stars. The edge of the Coalsack Nebula is in the right upper corner and the bright star Beta Centauri is visible at the lower left edge. TESS is expected to cover more than 400 times as much sky as shown in this image with its four cameras during its initial two-year search for exoplanets. A science-quality image, also referred to as a "first light" image, is expected to be released in June.

TESS will undergo one final thruster burn on May 30 to enter its science orbit around Earth. This highly elliptical orbit will maximize the amount of sky the spacecraft can image, allowing it to continuously monitor large swaths of the sky. TESS is expected to begin science operations in mid-June after reaching this orbit and completing camera calibrations.

Normal TESS images will have up to 30 minutes of exposure time.

Also at EarthSky and TechCrunch.

Previously: NASA's TESS Mission Set to Launch on Wednesday, April 18

Original Submission

Kepler Space Telescope Put into Hibernation Mode before Start of 19th Observation Campaign 4 comments

NASA's Kepler Spacecraft Pauses Science Observations to Download Science Data

Earlier this week, NASA's Kepler team received an indication that the spacecraft fuel tank is running very low. NASA has placed the spacecraft in a hibernation-like state in preparation to download the science data collected in its latest observation campaign. Once the data has been downloaded, the expectation is to start observations for the next campaign with any remaining fuel.

[...] To bring the data home, the spacecraft must point its large antenna back to Earth and transmit the data during its allotted Deep Space Network time, which is scheduled in early August. Until then, the spacecraft will remain stable and parked in a no-fuel-use safe mode. On August 2, the team will command the spacecraft to awaken from its no-fuel-use state and maneuver the spacecraft to the correct orientation and downlink the data. If the maneuver and download are successful, the team will begin its 19th observation campaign on August 6 with the remaining fuel.

Also at The Verge and Engadget.

Related: Google Researchers Discover an 8th Planet in the Kepler-90 System
Citizen Scientists Credited for Discovery of Multi-Planet System
Kepler's K2 Mission Going Strong With Another 95 New Exoplanets Confirmed
NASA's TESS Mission Set to Launch on Wednesday, April 18

Original Submission

NASA Retires the Kepler Space Telescope after It Runs Out of Hydrazine 15 comments

NASA Retires Kepler Space Telescope

After nine years in deep space collecting data that indicate our sky to be filled with billions of hidden planets - more planets even than stars - NASA's Kepler space telescope has run out of fuel needed for further science operations. NASA has decided to retire the spacecraft within its current, safe orbit, away from Earth. Kepler leaves a legacy of more than 2,600 planet discoveries from outside our solar system, many of which could be promising places for life.

"As NASA's first planet-hunting mission, Kepler has wildly exceeded all our expectations and paved the way for our exploration and search for life in the solar system and beyond," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "Not only did it show us how many planets could be out there, it sparked an entirely new and robust field of research that has taken the science community by storm. Its discoveries have shed a new light on our place in the universe, and illuminated the tantalizing mysteries and possibilities among the stars."

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  • (Score: 2) by Runaway1956 on Friday April 13 2018, @01:46AM (4 children)

    by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Friday April 13 2018, @01:46AM (#666292) Journal

    TESS's own orbit should remain stable for decades

    As I was reading, I wondered why the mission was so limited. Apparently, those goals listed are merely initial goals. If the satellite is even worth launching, it should be capable of much, much more than those initial goals. We'll see how much value it has, as time passes.

    • (Score: 5, Interesting) by takyon on Friday April 13 2018, @02:46AM (2 children)

      by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Friday April 13 2018, @02:46AM (#666310) Journal

      They start out with a 2 year mission duration. A little less than a month looking at each of the 26 observation sectors. That will allow them to find many of the planets that orbit very close to their stars. These might not be the most interesting targets because they are generally scorched worlds, or possibly irradiated/flared worlds in the case of red dwarf stars. But it would be valuable to get a sense of how a star system's planets are typically configured. It seems that Jupiter or something else pulled back the inner planets, allowing Earth (and Venus and Mars) to get into our Sun's habitable zone. Some star systems have multiple planets orbiting within the orbit of Mercury (~0.4 AU).

      This satellite seems worth it just for the 2 year mission alone. It looks like it cost $75 million to build, and $87 million for the SpaceX launch contract. We should be launching missions like this annually. When BFR starts launching, massive payloads could be sent for even less. IIRC, TESS was designed to use a smaller launch vehicle but got switched to Falcon 9, and barely takes up any of the Falcon 9's payload capacity (TESS is 350 kg).

      After the first 2 years, they should be able to focus on sections of sky for longer than 27 days. Boost it to 3-6 months and we may see some more "relevant" exoplanets.

      TESS is estimated to discover 3,000 exoplanet candidates, 500 of which will be Earth/Super-Earth sized, and 20 of those in a habitable zone (probably around a red dwarf). Those estimates are presumably for the 2 year initial mission, and given the huge amount of stars it will be looking at, they could be conservative estimates. Either way, it will be an exciting mission.

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      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 20 2018, @04:35PM (1 child)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 20 2018, @04:35PM (#669697)

        While the 2 year initial mission is the first goal, the orbit is designed to be stable for 15 years [], with essentially no propellant use during that time.

        --Some guy on the interwebs

        • (Score: 2) by takyon on Friday April 20 2018, @04:55PM

          by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Friday April 20 2018, @04:55PM (#669710) Journal

          I know that the orbit will remain stable long after 2 years. Your source actually says "expected to be stable for at least 20 years", and I heard "decades" elsewhere. It's just that a lot could get done in just those first 2 years alone. Hopefully, by the time TESS experiences issues, we will be capable enough to cheaply send a robot to fix it.

          It seems like the observation sectors were chosen to avoid the area already covered by Kepler. I think that for the extended mission(s), they should do the same thing they are doing for the first 2 years, but rotate the spacecraft to point the "poles" so that a different region of sky gets the 108-351 days of continuous viewing. For example, they could rotate it by 45-90 degrees on the y-axis (see illustration []).

          This story is the first I've heard of the "JWST continuous viewing zone" though. If JWST is pointing at that region often or continuously, they may choose to do a repeat of the first campaign in order to get great coverage of that region. They could find exoplanets orbiting further than 1 AU from their star, increasing the haul of potentially habitable Earth-like exoplanets not orbiting a red dwarf.

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    • (Score: 5, Informative) by takyon on Friday April 13 2018, @01:00PM

      by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Friday April 13 2018, @01:00PM (#666441) Journal

      The overlap at the poles might be enough to find exoplanets with longer orbital periods: []

      Because of those tight observing windows, the spacecraft won’t be able to pick up planets with longer Earth-sized orbits, as Kepler could. But since the 13 observation strips in each hemisphere overlap at the poles, TESS will have eyes on both the northern and southern polar skies for nearly a year at a time. In a few years — if TESS’s two-year mission is extended long enough — it could eventually find the kinds of rocky, habitable-zone planets that Kepler could.

      You can get a sense of how that looks from this image: [] [] (alt)

      So there is a not insubstantial region that will get 351 days of coverage during the ~2 year campaign. A ring getting 189 days. Small bits getting 108 days, and larger portions getting 54 and 81 days.

      I assume you'd want to see at least 2 transits to get an exoplanet candidate, 3 preferred. So TESS could find some exoplanets with 100-150 day orbital periods, which could be in the habitable zone of stars that are dimmer than the Sun but much brighter than red dwarfs.

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  • (Score: 2) by takyon on Thursday April 19 2018, @11:44AM

    by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Thursday April 19 2018, @11:44AM (#669015) Journal []

    SpaceX and NASA officials said the Falcon 9 rocket achieved an on-target orbit before deploying TESS less than 50 minutes after liftoff, while the spacecraft soared over the Indian Ocean west of Australia.

    A few minutes later, engineers confirmed TESS extended its power-generating solar panels to a span of 12.8 feet (3.9 meters) tip-to-tip. The satellite started charging its batteries as designed, while ground controllers at Orbital ATK, which built the TESS spacecraft, ran it through a post-launch health check.

    Officials said TESS was performing as expected late Wednesday evening.

    [...] After a five-day checkout of the spacecraft, ground controllers will kick off procedures to switch on TESS’s cameras, with “first light” from the observatory expected next week.

    [...] The compact spacecraft’s on-board propulsion system will raise TESS’s orbit in the coming weeks to set up for a flyby of the moon May 17.

    [...] The collection of science data is scheduled to begin in July, with the first year of TESS’s two-year campaign aimed at stars in the southern sky. In 2019, TESS will start looking at stars in the northern sky.

    If they look at each month's batch of data as it comes in, maybe we'll have the first exoplanet candidates by September or so.

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