NASA’s Planet Hunting Probe Launching In 2017

NASA’s planet hunting probe is being planned for a 2017 launch. The Satellite (TESS) and Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) are the latest missions approved by NASA’s Astrophysics Explorer Program. The program’s officials say the project will cost $200 million for satellites and $55 million for space station experiments.

To scan for exoplanets, the TESS spacecraft will utilize an array of wide-field cameras. The cameras will look for Earth-sized worlds in their stars’ habitable zones. If the spacecraft finds planets where water could exist, it will send that data back to NASA officials.

In a statement for the announcement, principal investigator George Ricker of MIT revealed:

“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.”

The TESS name was chosen because the spacecraft will look for planets as they transit their host stars (cross in front of stars). This is not the first time such a platform has been used. NASA’s Kepler spacecraft has used the transit setup since March 2009. Kepler to date has discovered more than 2,700 potential exoplanets.

TESS will be a free-flying spacecraft while NICER will be attached to the International Space Station. NICER will measure cosmic X-ray sources in the hopes that scientists can better understand neutron stars.

In a statement regarding the platform, John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for science in Washington, said:

“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.”

Here is a video that talks about an Earth-like planet discovered by another NASA project:

More than 90 missions have launched under NASA’s Explorer program since Explorer 1 launched in 1958. That first mission discovered Earth’s radiation belts.

Do you think TESS and NICER are worthwhile efforts on behalf of NASA?