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TESS - Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite

N.A.S.A. Artists impression of Tess in orbit round the Earth.

TESS is the name given by N.A.S.A. to its latest satellite designed to seek out and identify possible exoplanets candidates orbiting stars nearby. The stars chosen will be 30 to 100 times brighter than the stars that were examined as part of the Kepler project. The information gathered about the candidate exoplanets will then be examined more closely by teams on the grounds.

Some of the data will be used by the James Webb space telescope to study some of the star whenever that is eventually launched into space. It is hoped that amongst those exoplanets discovered could well be a planet that looks and feels like Earth based on analysis of data.

The satellite was put into orbit on the 18th April 2018 on board a Falcon 9 space ship. The Falcon 9 was designed and built by SpaceX, a private company owned by Elon Musk.

TESS is the follow up to the previous space satellite that N.A.S.A. sent up, Kepler Space Telescope which was launched on March 7th, 2009 and has identified over 2300 exoplanets with another 2200 candidate exoplanets at the time of writing at the end of June 2018.

TESS will be an elliptical orbit round the Earth and will send back the data it finds in bulk. The data will be poured over by scientists in a race before the star moves out of focus and then we'd have to wait another year to study the star again.

At the time of writing, it was revealed that scientists were able to identify 80 new exoplanets using a new technique. The article refers to star HD 73344 which is covered on this site although the exoplanets aren't. What makes the star interesting is that its the brightest host star ever discovered and its in Cancer.

The satellite will be controlled by eight locations across the United States with the Mission Operation Control in Dulles, Virginia. The lead university is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T. for short). The lead scientist is Dr. George Ricker. Dr. Ricker is currently the Director of the Detector Laboratory and Senior Research Scientist at the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. Bio Source

TESS and Kepler

Kepler looked a very specific area of space that encompased the constellations of Cygnus, the Swan, Lyra, the Lyre and Draco, the Dragon. The most significant star in that region of space would be Delta Cygni.

Whilst Kepler searched in such a small area, TESS will not be limited, TESS will eventually cover nearly the whole night sky on a two year journey. During the first year, TESS will look and monitor the northern hemisphere and then in the second year will swap and look at the southern hemisphere. If Cygnus was never your thing then maybe what TESS looks at will definitely be more like it. It is hoped that TESS will be able to identify thousands more exoplanets than what have been discovered already

The exoplanets that Kepler discovered are easy to identify as they start with Kepler such as Kepler-102. Kepler-102 for example has five planets in orbit round it, starting from the letter b because all planets start with the letter b, the 'a' represents the star at the centre.

Both Kepler and TESS detect stars by examining closely the stars and looking for any dimming to indicate that a planet is passing across the field of view or transiting as it known.

Kepler studied stars that were very faint and far off. TESS on the other hand will be studying brighter stars and ones that much closer to the Earth. It is hoped that the satellite will not only find Hot Jupiters but also Hospitable Earths. We may never be able to visit them with our current level of technology but there will be spin-offs and one day in the future if technology radically improves, we may.

CHEOPS (CHaracterising ExOPlanets Satellite)

At the end of 2018, the European Space Agency (E.S.A.) will launch their satellite into space called CHEOPS (CHaracterising ExOPlanets Satellite). CHEOPS will be to look at the exoplanets that have already been discovered and discover more characteristics by using ultra-high precision photometry.

The main advantage of what CHEOPS is going to do is then to work out candidate which could possibly have life. There will be further follow up work on the stars by scientists on the ground. CHEOPS project may well receive data from TESS to help it determine the required information. E.S.A.

TESS Satellite Look

N.A.S.A. picture of the instruments onboard the TESS satellite

On N.A.S.A.'s page on the satellite, they have produced a picture showing what the different instruments of the satellite are. We're just going to point out a few, for the others, you should read the official page for the satellite.

The satellite is going to be powered by solar power as the satellite will be close enough to be powered by it unlike the New Horizons mission to Pluto which had to use nuclear as the solar energy from the Sun wasn't going to be strong enough.

The main instrument of the satellite are cameras at the top of the of the satellite, there are four of the cameras all scanning the skies, looking at the stars. The thrusters are to position the satellite into position.

There is an antenna to broadcast the information back to Earth after a computer on board has done a first pass at processing the information. Unlike the earlier mentioned New Horizons, the only real instruments are the cameras.

Official Site for TESS

Nope, not us. N.A.S.A. has a dedicated section on the site for the satellite showing in more detail the instruments and the history behind the satellite. If you're not into reading, there are a few videos to help explain the information.


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