NASA has successfully launched its Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) telescope into orbit, which will map 85 percent of the sky over the next two years.
Lifting off from Cape Canaveral on a SpaceX Falcon 9 on April 19, NASA’s TESS mission is expected to increase the number of known extrasolar planets (exoplanets) by a factor of 400. TESS will measure the brightness of nearby, bright stars — primarily red dwarfs within 300 light years of earth, looking for a dip in luminosity that signals a planet’s transit across the viewed star’s surface.
TESS will pick up where the Kepler mission left off, which successfully detected around 2,500 exoplanets using the same method, but will soon run out of fuel. TESS’ four wide-angle cameras will give it a coverage of around 350 times that of Kepler’s, with a new study predicting with 90 percent accuracy that TESS will discover between 4430-4660 new planets in its first two years alone.
From high polar orbit, TESS will create an almost full-sky map of exoplanets that can be investigated further by other missions, such as the James Webb Space Telescope, the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) or Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), which might measure and analyse the atmospheres of planets TESS finds.
TESS’ initial mission will be two years, and it could receive an extension from NASA following that Kepler has been finding new planets for nine. TESS’ creators estimate that it could have an operational lifespan of 20 years.