A Look Back on NASA’s TESS Spacecraft
While the public has been eagerly following the incredible discoveries that have been made on Mars, NASA’s TESS Spacecraft has been hard at work under the public radar. The TESS Spacecraft stands for Transitioning Exoplanet Survey Satellite, and it’s changed the way in which we understand space forever.
The TESS Spacecraft: Its Main Objective
The TESS Spacecraft was launched by NASA on April 18, 2018, and since then, it’s proved itself to be an incredibly important part of space exploration. Essentially, this spacecraft is a giant space telescope designed to discover and track exoplanets, which are small planets that orbit stars outside of the solar system. There have been other spacecrafts designed to seek out exoplanets in the past, but thanks to the new technology that’s available, this one is capable of tracking a much larger field of space.
Speaking of technology, the TESS Spacecraft is a profoundly advanced tool that’s not just capable of capturing images of exoplanets, but of measuring their mass, density, size and orbit. Another thing that makes this spacecraft unique is that it’s capable of surveying the entire sky, which is where other spacecrafts of its kind have fallen short in the past.
One way in which the spacecraft detects these exoplanets is by observing the brightness of stars. When the stars temporarily dim in brightness, it means that an exoplanet is passing over them.
Besides gathering data on exoplanets for a deeper understanding of space, the data is being used to determine why certain exoplanets may or may not be inhabitable.
The History of the TESS Spacecraft
The TESS Spacecraft was originally conceived in 2006, when Google and other funders worked together to bring forth a design and concept. Eventually, the plan was submitted to NASA, only to be rejected. It wasn’t until 2010 when it was finally approved. Interestingly, launching the TESS Spacecraft was far more cost-effective than launching previous spacecrafts with similar objectives, coming in at $200 million.
Important Contributions Made by the TESS Spacecraft
Missions began in July of 2018, and by September, the spacecraft had already detected an exoplanet in the Pi Mensae system that was orbiting a star every six days. Only a couple of days later, another exoplanet was found orbiting the red dwarf LHS 3844, and it was discovered that it was larger than Earth. One thing that makes this exoplanet unique is its surprising proximity to our own planet.
By April of that year, it was reported that over 335 potential exoplanets had been discovered, but in order to verify their statuses, NASA has to carefully observe each collection of data, which is quite extensive. Space enthusiasts can easily follow these discoveries through the NASA website, although specific data is limited.
On June 30 of that year, the TESS discovered one of the smallest exoplanets so far. Quite unusually, it’s smaller than Earth. It’s located in the L 98-59 system, and its size is 80 percent of our planet.