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SpaceX Launches Orbital ATK-Made 'TESS' Spacecraft for NASA

19 Avril 2018

TESS Principal Investigator George Ricker asked rhetorically at the American Astronomical Society annual meeting at National Harbor in Maryland in January. The launch weather forecast is 90 percent go.

Over the course of several weeks, TESS will use six thruster burns to travel in a series of progressively elongated orbits to reach the Moon, which will provide a gravitational assist so that TESS can transfer into its 13.7-day final science orbit around Earth. By June it will settle into a unique, looping orbit that soars out to 250,000 kilometres from Earth before swooping back in to within 100,000 kilometres. The second stage separated three seconds later and fired two seconds after that. The orbit is carefully planned to account for the moon's gravity also. This detection technique, known as the transit method, was pioneered by probes such as NASA's wildly successful Kepler telescope.

This orbit will take TESS as close to Earth as 67,000 miles (108,000 kilometers) and as far away as 232,000 miles (373,000 km).

NASA believes that TESS will build on Kepler's momentum and open the study of exoplanets in unprecedented ways.

The launch will be the eighth of the year for SpaceX, which most recently launched a resupply mission to the International Space Station on April 2. How often the dips repeat indicates how fast the planet circles its host star, and the amount of light that's blocked tells us the size of the distant world. "It'll be a firehose of data". This enabled researchers to discover even more exoplanets, understand the evolution of stars and gain insight about supernovae and black holes. Most of Tess' targets will be cool, common red dwarf stars, thought to be rich breeding grounds for planets. "We know that planets in principle exist there", says Ricker, "but there's really not much more we can say other than that they exist'". NASA plans to operate TESS until at least 2020.

"The types of planets that Tess will detect are revealed by a process called a transit". The shift is a clue to the planet's mass.

Once in orbit, the TESS satellite will stretch its solar panels and begin powering itself, and while the exact timeline of its scientific mission could vary depending on many factors, it should begin peering into the depths of space soon. The aim is to identify and weigh 50 planets to serve up to the JWST.

Wait, why will the TESS planets be easier to study for signs of life?

The cameras sit on top, beneath a cone that will protect them from radiation.

Ground-based telescopes initially will help verify suspected planets and measure their masses and densities to determine what sort of planets they are.

SpaceX Launches Orbital ATK-Made 'TESS' Spacecraft for NASA