In the Cleanroom with TESS – NASA’s Newest Exoplanet Hunter Launching April 16

NASA’s TESS Exoplanet hunter being
processed by technicians inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility clean room
on Feb 20, 2018 at the Kennedy Space Center. 
Launch on SpaceX Falcon 9 set for April 16, 2018.
Credit:
Ken Kremer/SpaceUpClose.com/kenkremer.com

Ken Kremer     SpaceUpClose.com     11 April 2018

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – NASA’s newest exoplanet hunter, the
Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) who’s
goal is to search for new Earth’s that could potentially support life is on
target to launch April 16 from the Florida Space Coast.

TESS
will help answer the biggest question of them all – ‘Are We Alone in the Universe?’

TESS
is scheduled to blast off on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 6:32 p.m. EDT Monday,
April 16 from Space Launch Complex-40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The
launch window lasts only a very short 30 seconds.  



Space UpClose recently got an up
close look and media briefing about the small sized but scientifically powerful
observatory during a visit with the spacecraft and team inside the clean room
processing facility at
the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility
clean room at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. 


Check out our gallery of up close
photos.

NASA’s TESS Exoplanet hunter undergoes
prelaunch processing inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility clean room
on Feb 20, 2018 at the Kennedy Space Center.  Liftoff on SpaceX Falcon 9 slated
for April 16, 2018.
Credit: Ken
Kremer/SpaceUpClose.com/kenkremer.com

TESS is charged with searching for
and discovering new Earth and Super Earth sized planets beyond our Solar System
that orbit their host stars inside the habitable zones that offer conditions conducive
to the origin and evolution of life.



During an initial 2 year long
mission, TESS will gradually sweep across the entire sky and conduct a full sky
survey by monitoring and investigating over 200,000 of the nearest and brightest stars to
search for planets outside our solar system.






“One of the biggest questions in exoplanet exploration is: If an
astronomer finds a planet in a star’s
habitable
zone
, will it be interesting from a
biologist’s point of view?” said George Ricker, TESS principal investigator at
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Kavli Institute for
Astrophysics and Space Research in Cambridge, which is leading the mission.






“We expect TESS will discover a number of planets whose
atmospheric compositions, which hold potential clues to the presence of life,
could be precisely measured by future observers.”



TESS is NASA’s second exoplanet
mission and a follow up to the hugely successful Kepler probe which discovered
over 2300 exoplanets of all sizes.



NASA’s TESS
Exoplanet hunter being processed inside clean room tent in the Payload
Hazardous Servicing Facility on Feb 20, 2018 at the Kennedy Space Center. 
Launch on SpaceX Falcon 9 set for April 16, 2018.
Credit: Ken
Kremer/SpaceUpClose.com/kenkremer.com

To carry out its daunting task, the
spacecraft is equipped with 4 identical wide-field science cameras.  Their combined field of view will enable the
spacecraft to image some 85% of the entire sky during the full sky survey over
the first two years.

Scientists plumbing the data
gathered by TESS hope to discover on the order of 300 to 500 Earths and Super
Earths alone, orbiting in their habitable zones compared to a dozen or so by Kepler.


TESS observations will yield the
orbits and sizes of these exoplanets. 
They will also provide the specific targets for follow up high
resolution investigations by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope and other
telescopes to determine the exoplanets masses, compositions and atmospheric
constituents.

In turn researchers will use these observations
to determine if any of the newly discovered Earths and Super earths and
actually Earth like possessing water, oxygen and carbon based molecules for
example that can potentially support life.

How will TESS conduct the full sky
survey? The sky has been subdivided into 26 observing sectors that basically
equate to tileing the sky piece by piece – much like covering your kitchen
floor with tiles.

  

TESS will map the sky one tile at a
time by pointing the four cameras to discrete sectors of the sky and then
combining them into an overarching panorama of the Universe encircling Earth.

The sky has been divided into 2
hemispheres – southern and northern.

Each hemisphere has been divided
into 13 sectors that will be observed one by one.  The southern sky of 13 sectors will be imaged
initially over the first year, followed by the northern sky of 13 sectors over
the second year.   
NASA’s TESS Exoplanet hunter undergoes
prelaunch processing inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility clean room
on Feb 20, 2018 at the Kennedy Space Center.  Liftoff on SpaceX Falcon 9 slated
for April 16, 2018.
Credit: Ken
Kremer/SpaceUpClose.com/kenkremer.com

Each of the cameras is equipped with
four 16.8 megapixel CCD’s and a seven element optical system.

The cameras are located on the top
of the spacecraft inside a protective sunshade to shield the instruments.






TESS will observe each sky sector tile
for approximately 28 days of continuous observations.



Each sky tile from a single camera measures
24 degrees by 24 degrees. The 4 cameras combine to simultaneously cover a
sector of 24 x 96 degrees.




TESS is the first space science mission
launched by SpaceX for NASA. 






The SpaceX Falcon 9 will deliver
TESS to a highly elliptical Earth orbit never used before by a science mission,
Ricker said
at the media briefing.


TESS will orbit Earth in 13.7 days
in a 2:1 resonance orbit with the moon. The moon orbits earth every 28 days.

The TESS science orbit is extremely stable
as a result, thus requiring minimal fuel to maintain.  The spacecraft is loaded with enough propellants to continue its observations
for 20 years if all goes well with the spacecraft systems.  

NASA’s Transiting
Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is set to launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket
from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida no
earlier than April 16, 2018. Once in orbit, TESS will spend about two years
surveying 200,000 of the brightest stars near the sun to
search for planets outside our solar system. Credits: NASA

“TESS is opening a door for a whole new kind of study,” said
Stephen Rinehart, TESS project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
in Greenbelt, Maryland, which manages the mission. “We’re going to be able study
individual planets and start talking about the differences between planets. The
targets TESS finds are going to be fantastic subjects for research for decades
to come. It’s the beginning of a new era of exoplanet research.”

The $240 million spacecraft was
built by prime contractor Orbital ATK.

The kitchen table sized probe weighs
770 pounds (350 g) and measures 12 x 4 x 5 ft (3.7 x 1.2 x 1.5 m).





NASA’s TESS
Exoplanet hunter being processed inside clean room tent in the Payload
Hazardous Servicing Facility on Feb 20, 2018 at the Kennedy Space Center. 
Launch on SpaceX Falcon 9 set for April 16, 2018.
Credit: Ken
Kremer/SpaceUpClose.com/kenkremer.com

TESS is a NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission led and operated by MIT and managed by Goddard.
George Ricker, of MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research,
serves as principal investigator for the mission. TESS’s four wide-field
cameras were developed by MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory. Additional partners include
Orbital ATK, NASA’s Ames Research Center, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for
Astrophysics, and the Space Telescope Science Institute. More than a dozen
universities, research institutes and observatories worldwide are
participants in the mission.


Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of NASA’s TESS,
SpaceX, ULA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK and more
space and mission
reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force
Station, Florida.





Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing
Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news: www.kenkremer.com –www.spaceupclose.com –
twitter @ken_kremer –
ken
at kenkremer.com




NASA’s TESS Exoplanet hunter being processed by
technicians inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility clean room during
visit by Ken Kremer/Space UpClose during media briefing on Feb 20, 2018 at the
Kennedy Space Center.  Launch on SpaceX Falcon 9 set for April 16, 2018.
Credit: Ken
Kremer/SpaceUpClose.com/kenkremer.com


Ken Kremer

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of NASA, SpaceX, ULA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and more space and mission reports direct from Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Stay tuned here for Ken's continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news. Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics. Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events.

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