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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. http://spacex.com/webcast

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.


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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 [spaceflight101.com], 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) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> 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 [spiedigitallibrary.org]).

    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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