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  Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS)

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Author Topic:   Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS)
Robert Pearlman

Posts: 27328
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 04-05-2013 08:25 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
MIT release
NASA selects MIT-led TESS project for 2017 mission

Following a three-year competition, NASA has selected the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) project at MIT for a planned launch in 2017. The space agency announced the mission — to be funded by a $200 million grant to the MIT-led team — this afternoon.

TESS team partners include the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research (MKI) and MIT Lincoln Laboratory; NASA's Goddard Spaceflight Center; Orbital Sciences Corporation; NASA's Ames Research Center; the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; The Aerospace Corporation; and the Space Telescope Science Institute.

The project, led by principal investigator George Ricker, a senior research scientist at MKI, will use an array of wide-field cameras to perform an all-sky survey to discover transiting exoplanets, ranging from Earth-sized planets to gas giants, in orbit around the brightest stars in the sun's neighborhood.

An exoplanet is a planet orbiting a star other than the sun; a transiting exoplanet is one that periodically eclipses its host star.

"TESS will carry out the first space-borne all-sky transit survey, covering 400 times as much sky as any previous mission," Ricker says. "It will identify thousands of new planets in the solar neighborhood, with a special focus on planets comparable in size to the Earth."

TESS relies upon a number of innovations developed by the MIT team over the past seven years. "For TESS, we were able to devise a special new 'Goldilocks' orbit for the spacecraft — one which is not too close, and not too far, from both the Earth and the moon," Ricker says.

As a result, every two weeks TESS approaches close enough to the Earth for high data-downlink rates, while remaining above the planet's harmful radiation belts. This special orbit will remain stable for decades, keeping TESS's sensitive cameras in a very stable temperature range.

With TESS, it will be possible to study the masses, sizes, densities, orbits and atmospheres of a large cohort of small planets, including a sample of rocky worlds in the habitable zones of their host stars. TESS will provide prime targets for further characterization by the James Webb Space Telescope, as well as other large ground-based and space-based telescopes of the future.

TESS project members include Ricker; Josh Winn, an associate professor of physics at MIT; and Sara Seager, a professor of planetary science and physics at MIT.

"We're very excited about TESS because it's the natural next step in exoplanetary science," Winn says.

"The selection of TESS has just accelerated our chances of finding life on another planet within the next decade," Seager adds.

MKI research scientists Roland Vanderspek and Joel Villasenor will serve as deputy principal investigator and payload scientist, respectively. Principal research scientist Alan Levine serves as a co-investigator. Tony Smith of Lincoln Lab will manage the TESS payload effort, Lincoln Lab will develop the optical cameras and custom charge-coupled devices required by the mission.

"NASA's Explorer Program gives us a wonderful opportunity to carry out forefront space science with a relatively small university-based group and on a time scale well-matched to the rapidly evolving field of extrasolar planets," says Jackie Hewitt, a professor of physics and director of the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. "At MIT, TESS has the involvement of faculty and research staff of the Kavli Institute, the Department of Physics, and the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, so we will be actively engaging students in this exciting work."

Previous sky surveys with ground-based telescopes have mainly picked out giant exoplanets. NASA's Kepler spacecraft has recently uncovered the existence of many smaller exoplanets, but the stars Kepler examines are faint and difficult to study. In contrast, TESS will examine a large number of small planets around the very brightest stars in the sky.

"The TESS legacy will be a catalog of the nearest and brightest main-sequence stars hosting transiting exoplanets, which will forever be the most favorable targets for detailed investigations," Ricker said.

The Explorer Program is NASA's oldest continuous program and has launched more than 90 missions. It began in 1958 with the Explorer 1, which discovered the Earth's radiation belts. Another Explorer mission, the Cosmic Background Explorer, led to a Nobel Prize. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center manages the program for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Robert Pearlman

Posts: 27328
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 04-24-2013 09:54 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Orbital Sciences Corporation release
Orbital selected by NASA for TESS astrophysics satellite

Orbital Sciences Corporation, one of the world's leading space technology companies, announced today that it has been selected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to design, manufacture, integrate and test a new astrophysics satellite that will perform a full-sky search for exoplanets around nearby stars. The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) satellite program, which will be based on Orbital's proven LEOStar-2 spacecraft platform, will be executed at Orbital's satellite production and testing facility in Dulles, VA. The four-year contract is valued at approximately $75 million.

The mission of the TESS spacecraft is to provide prime exoplanet candidates for further characterization by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), as well as other large ground-based and space-based telescopes in the future. The planned launch of the TESS spacecraft in mid-2017 is well matched to JWST's scheduled launch in 2018 to maintain momentum in NASA's exoplanet program.

"We are honored to have the opportunity to support MIT and Goddard in this pioneering astrophysics mission that will result in the first space-borne all-sky exoplanet transit survey," said Mr. Mike Miller, Orbital's Senior Vice President of Science and Environmental Satellite Programs. "Our reliable and affordable line of LEOStar spacecraft, coupled with MIT's world-class science leadership and Goddard's experienced mission management team, will provide an innovative space science mission for NASA in the most cost-effective way possible."

Chosen for its scientific value and low-risk development plan, the TESS mission will perform an all-sky survey using an unique array of telescopes to discover exoplanets orbiting nearby stars and will seek to identify habitable, Earth-like planets. TESS will further the study of small exoplanets, first uncovered by NASA's Kepler spacecraft, by examining an immense quantity of small planets that surround the sky's brightest stars. The stars examined by Kepler are fainter and more difficult to study than those TESS will survey, and past ground-based observations have been limited to only giant exoplanets, thereby ensuring that TESS will provide a compelling new catalog of stars hosting transiting exoplanets, suitable for future missions to study.

The TESS mission was awarded under NASA's Explorer series of lower cost and highly productive space science satellites. Orbital has built multiple Explorer satellites for NASA in the past, including the NuSTAR, Swift, GALEX, AIM and IBEX spacecraft, all of which are currently operational and providing valuable scientific data.

The TESS project is being led by Principal Investigator Dr. George Ricker of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, MA, and mission management is performed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. The TESS mission features partners from the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research (MKI) and MIT Lincoln Laboratory, NASA's Ames Research Center, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, The Aerospace Corporation, and the Space Telescope Science Institute. The two-year astrophysics mission will be funded by a $200 million award from NASA.

The TESS mission will rely on Orbital's LEOStar-2 platform, a flexible, high-performance spacecraft for space and Earth science, remote sensing and other applications. Spacecraft built on the LEOStar-2 bus have such performance options as redundancy, propulsion capability, high data rate communications, and high-agility/high-accuracy pointing. The LEOStar-2 series of spacecraft have supported multiple missions for commercial and government customers over the past 15 years.

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