NASA is preparing to launch the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, to look for potentially habitable planets on April 16.
TESS will be the successor to the Kepler space telescope, which will be running out of fuel within several months. There are certain differences between the two missions, though both of them are looking to provide humanity with a better understanding of the universe that we live in.
NASA TESS Mission Explained
The TESS mission is the next attempt of NASA to search for exoplanets, or planets that are located outside of our solar system. Particularly, TESS will be looking for habitable planets, which could become Earth 2.0 or possibly even contain alien life.
NASA has now set the TESS launch on April 16, marking another step forward in understanding planets beyond the solar system through its unique capabilities. The satellite will hitch a ride on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, launching from Cape Canaveral in Florida.
Unlike other spacecraft that are capable of finding exoplanets, TESS is designed to look for Earth-sized planets orbiting within the "habitable zone" of stars, which is where liquid water may be sustained on the surface of the planet. The theory is that if a planet has the same size, orbits a star, and carries liquid water on the surface like the Earth, then it has the chance of sustaining life.
TESS As Kepler Mission Successor
TESS will continue the mission of the Kepler space telescope, which was launched in 2009. Through its nine-year run, the spacecraft has discovered over 2,600 exoplanets that orbit stars that are up to 3,000 light-years away. The Kepler space telescope will soon end its run though, with current estimates claiming that the spacecraft will run out of fuel within several months.
However, Kepler was observing the same area of space, and at up to 3,000 light-years away, some of the discovered exoplanets were too far away. TESS, meanwhile, will be setting its sights much nearer, at only up to 300 light-years from Earth. The spacecraft will also look at planets that are 30 to 100 times brighter, which will allow the utilization of spectroscopy. Through spectroscopy, which is the study of light absorption and emission, researchers are hoping that they could find out a planet's mass, density, and atmospheric composition.
However, according to Goddard Space Flight Center's Stephen Rinehart, the destined purpose of TESS might still be unknown.
"I don't think we know everything TESS is going to accomplish," said Rinehart. "To me, the most exciting part of any mission is the unexpected result, the one that nobody saw coming."