TESS Planet Hunter Snaps 1st Test Image, Completes Lunar Flyby Targeting Last Thruster Firing to Final Science Orbit

This test image from one
of the four cameras aboard the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS)
captures a swath of the southern sky along the plane of our galaxy. TESS is
expected to cover more than 400 times the amount of sky shown in this image
when using all four of its cameras during science operations.  Credits: NASA/MIT/TESS

Ken Kremer     SpaceUpClose.com     25 May 2018

KENNEDY SPACE
CENTER, FL – NASA’s newest planet hunter, the Transiting
Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), achieved a pair of key commissioning phase  milestones by powered up its ground breaking
cameras to snap its first test image and completing the critical orbit
adjusting gravity assist lunar flyby – thereby setting the probe up for the
final thruster firing this week required to arrive at its final P/2 resonant science
orbit.



Over
200,000 stars are visible in the TESS test image. 


Imagine
all the exoplanets soon to be discovered – maybe even a New Earth !



The
lunar flyby was successfully carried out on May 17
at 06:31:52.180 UTC when the table sized TESS swung by the moon at an altitude of approximately 8000 kilometers (5000 mi) altitude above the
surface.



“NASA’s next planet hunter, the Transiting
Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), is one step closer to searching for new
worlds after successfully completing a lunar flyby on May 17,” NASA said in a
post flyby statement.



“The spacecraft passed about 5,000 miles from
the Moon, which provided a gravity assist that helped TESS sail toward its
final working orbit.”





The final thruster firing is scheduled for May
30.





The goal of TESS
is to carry out an all sky survey and discover dozens of new Earth and Super
Earth sized exoplanets beyond our Solar System that may be capable of
supporting life, and possibly answer one of humanities most profound questions
– “Are We Alone?”







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 occurred on April 18, 2018. Credit:
Ken Kremer/SpaceUpClose.com/kenkremer.com

The TESS
camera test image was taken as part of the spacecraft and camera commissioning
phases – but NOT during the lunar flyby.

“No science will be gathered during the flyby,” said
Lockwood.

The
test image was snapped as part of camera commissioning by the science team for
a two-second duration using one of the four identical TESS CCD cameras.

“The
image, centered on the southern constellation Centaurus, reveals more than
200,000 stars,” said NASA.

“The
edge of the Coalsack Nebula is in the right upper corner and the bright star
Beta Centauri is visible at the lower left edge. TESS is expected to cover more
than 400 times as much sky as shown in this image with its four cameras during
its initial two-year search for exoplanets. A  science-quality image, also
referred to as a “first light” image, is expected to be released in June.”




Artist’s concept of NASA’s Orbital ATK-built Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) planet hunting satellite orbiting the Earth-Moon system. Credit: NASA/Orbital ATK

TESS is
making excellent progress towards arriving at its final science orbit – scheduled
for mid-June.

P/2 is the name of the TESS missions final science orbit. 


Graphic of NASA’s
Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite orbit raising maneuvers. Credit: NASA


TESS was just
over halfway through the demanding regimen of on board thruster firings
required to carry out the preplanned series of six orbit raising maneuvers setting
up the ‘do or die’ Lunar Flyby trajectory adjustment on May 17 – absolutely critical
to reaching its intended science perch, Orbital ATK TESS program manager Robert
Lockwood told SpaceUpClose.com in a pre-flyby interview.

“We are very excited about the lunar flyby!” gushed
Lockwood.

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

The
flyby of the Moon on May 17 … will change the orbit significantly ..  and get in position    … to do a period adjustment to get into the
special ‘goldilocks’ orbit – the P/2 lunar resonant orbit.”

P/2 is the name of the TESS missions final science orbit. 






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.






I asked Lockwood to describe the impact on the mission and
how important is the lunar flyby?



“The lunar flyby will change the orbit significantly.  That’s really part of the whole elegance of
the mission design. The lunar flyby will put us in an orbit that’s inclined to
the ecliptic by about 35 degrees,” Lockwood stated.



“It will also raise our Perigee up to double the distance
of GEO. So we’ll be at about 17 Earth radii for the perigee and 70 Earth radii
for the apogee.”



“The we will do the period adjust maneuver after that to
lower the apogee to about 59 Earth radii.”



“That period adjust maneuver which lasts about 15 minutes
will put TESS in exact resonance with the Moon.”



“We are very excited about the lunar flyby!”



Add caption










The Transiting Exoplanet
Survey Satellite (TESS) successfully blasted off on a two stage SpaceX Falcon 9
rocket at 6:51 p.m. EDT, April 18, from seaside Space Launch Complex-40 on Cape
Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

NASA’s next planet-hunter, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite
(TESS), successfully launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on April 18, 2018 from Space Launch Complex-40 on Cape
Canaveral Air Force Station, FL – in this view from a pad camera. TESS will
search for new worlds outside our solar system for further study.
  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.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





Ken Kremer/SpaceUpClose with the TESS spacecraft inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility clean room
on Feb 20, 2018 at the Kennedy Space Center.  Launch on SpaceX Falcon 9
occurred on April 18, 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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