NASA’s new satellite brings the search for Earthlike exoplanets closer to home

Mar 29, 2018

By Daniel Clery

Thanks to NASA’s pioneering Kepler probe, we know our galaxy is teeming with exoplanets. Now, a new generation of exoplanet hunters is set to home in on rocky worlds closer to home.

Over 9 years in space, Kepler has found more than 2600 confirmed exoplanets, implying hundreds of billions in the Milky Way. The new efforts sacrifice sheer numbers and target Earth-size planets whose composition, atmosphere, and climate—factors in whether they might be hospitable to life—could be studied. Leading the charge is the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), a NASA mission due for launch on 16 April.

The brainchild of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, the $337 million TESS project aims to identify at least 50 rocky exoplanets—Earth-size or bigger—close enough for their atmospheres to be scrutinized by the much larger James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), due for launch in 2020. “Where do we point Webb?” TESS Principal Investigator George Ricker asked rhetorically at the American Astronomical Society annual meeting at National Harbor in Maryland in January. “This is the finder scope.”

Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

One comment on “NASA’s new satellite brings the search for Earthlike exoplanets closer to home”

  • @OP – TESS project aims to identify at least 50 rocky exoplanets—Earth-size or bigger—close enough for their atmospheres to be scrutinized
    by the much larger James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), [NOW] due for launch in 2020.

    Hopefully this will go ahead as planned, but there are some hurdles to cross!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-43559980

    The successor to the Hubble Space Telescope has been delayed yet again and will not now launch until “approximately May 2020”.

    The James Webb Space Telescope is also in danger of busting the cost cap put on the project by the US Congress.

    Back in 2011, politicians on Capitol Hill said the observatory should not take more than $8bn to build and $800m to operate over five years in orbit.

    US space agency officials now say the construction bill could exceed the cap.

    “To date, Nasa has invested $7.3bn in Webb; Webb’s development costs are about $8bn total and the maximum allowable level established by law,” explained Acting Nasa Administrator Robert Lightfoot.

    “If we breach the $8bn cost laid out in the Congressional appropriations, the project will need to be re-authorised by Congress.”

    JWST is a joint venture between the American space agency and its European and Canadian counterparts.

    When it eventually goes into space, it will search for the very first stars to shine in the Universe.

    For several years, JWST had maintained a development track that would have seen it launch in October 2018. But then late last year, Nasa announced that it was pushing back the lift-off from the European spaceport in French Guiana to between March and June 2019.

    Officials cited the extra time engineers needed to complete integration of the observatory’s components and then test them. In particular, additional margin was required to get the tennis court-sized sunshield ready for flight.

    Nasa stresses that all hardware has been fabricated; it is now just a question of joining the mirrors and instruments to the spacecraft bus and sunshield – and then testing the two parts as one.

    The US Government Accountability Office regularly reviews the project and recently remarked that it thought a spring launch in 2019 was optimistic.

    Tuesday’s announcement bears out that assessment.



    Report abuse

Leave a Reply

View our comment policy.