There are millions if not billions of planets in the known universe but we know very little about them. Thwarted by distance and technology, the best we could do is set up and train our best and brightest eyes on the sky to catch a glimpse and a clue of their nature and composition. That is exactly what TESS, short for Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, was made for. The world’s first exoplanet satellite, TESS just successfully launched into the sky, riding a Falcon 9, and is on its way to settle into orbit to expand our knowledge and, just maybe, find a new home for us.
Made by Orbital ATK, known for both its aerospace as well as defense tech, TESS launched aboard SpaceX’s most famous rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Launching without incident, the satellite separated from the launch vehicle 49 minutes after takeoff and is positioning itself in its elliptical orbit. If nothing untoward happens within 60 days, it will begin scanning planets.
TESS has the distinction of being the first of its kind to survey the entire sky. Utilizing four wide-field cameras, it will focus on detecting small planets that orbit around bright stars within our vicinity. Like with other satellites, imagery from TESS will be used to analyze the possible characteristics of planets and their atmospheres. Naturally, there is some hope that we’ll eventually stumble on one that can be hospitable to human life.
Manufactured in Orbital ATK’s Virginia facility, TESS is the company’s 31st science spacecraft in the 35 years it has been collaborating with NASA. Orbital ATK also has under its belt the GALEX low-cost astrophysics mission, the Dawn deep-space mission, and, closer to home, Landsat Earth-imaging satellites. TESS’ initial mission is expected to last for two years.