NASA has decided on two "low-cost" missions that it plans on launching in 2017. The first project involves the MIT-led Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) project, and the second project involves the Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER), which will be mounted onto the International Space Station. NASA will spend a total of $255 million for both projects.
MIT's TESS project will receive $200 million in funding. The TESS project will use an array of wide-field cameras to perform an all-sky survey. It will scan nearby stars for exoplanets. Its primary focus are planets that are similar in size to Earth. TESS will note when these planets transit their host stars from its perspective. George Ricker, a senior research scientist at MIT's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research (MKI), stated,
TESS will carry out the first space-borne all-sky transit survey, covering 400 times as much sky as any previous mission. It will identify thousands of new planets in the solar neighborhood, with a special focus on planets comparable in size to the Earth.
NASA's second project, NICER, will be mounted onto the International Space Station. It will observe and measure the variability of cosmic X-ray sources, also known as as X-ray timing. The goal for NICER is to allow scientists to better understand neutron stars by exploring the states of matter within the stars and exploring their interior and exterior compositions. The project will be drastically cheaper than the TESS project, costing NASA about $55 million to fund. NICER's principal investigator is Keith Gendreau of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. TESS's George Ricker will also be a partner in the NICER Mission.
These projects are part of NASA's Explorer program. These are frequent, low-cost investigations that are relevant to NASA's astrophysics and heliophysics programs. The first program launched in 1958, which discovered the Earth's radiation belts. Over 90 more missions have been launched since then. John Grunsfeld, NASA's Associate Administrator for Science in Washington stated,
With these missions we will learn about the most extreme states of matter by studying neutron stars, and we will identify many nearby star systems with rocky planets in the habitable zone for further study by telescopes such as the James Webb Space Telescope.