According to mission leaders, a spare camera from a NASA exoplanet expedition might be used for a companion mission to validate existing findings and generate new ones. In April 2018, NASA launched the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) to conduct an all-sky survey. For weeks at a period, the spacecraft’s four cameras scan portions of the sky, searching for minute dips in star brightness caused by exoplanets passing in front of, or transiting, those stars.
TESS identified thousands of possible exoplanets during its 2-year primary mission, which finished in 2020 and is currently in an extended mission. In a discussion at the TESS Science Conference, TESS’s principal investigator at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, George Ricker, claimed the mission had detected 4,349 “objects of interest” thus far, of which 3,667 were candidates of planet on Aug. 2. Around 800 of the planet candidates are tiny exoplanets with radii less than four times the Earth’s.
The spaceship is still in good shape. In a separate session at the conference, Roland Vanderspek, TESS’s deputy principal investigator, said, “The spacecraft and the sensors are all performing pretty well.” “Their performance has been virtually unchanged since the mission began.” The project is preparing for a second three-year extended mission, which will begin in October 2022. The spacecraft’s health, as well as its stable orbit, which is a highly elliptical 2-week orbit around Earth, give project leaders hope that TESS will continue to operate well into the next decade.
At the meeting, Ricker outlined a concept for a companion trip to TESS, presently known as TESS-L5. This would be a miniature spaceship with a camera created as a backup for the four TESS astronauts. The spacecraft would function from the L-5 Lagrange point between the Earth and the sun, which is one astronomical standard, or around 150 million kilometers, away.
TESS-L5 would be capable of seeing the same field of view as any of the TESS cameras. In an email, Ricker added, “There is nothing that encourages more assurance in the accuracy of a discovery than making the same assertion at the same moment from two separate sites using nearly identical detectors and receiving the same result.”
TESS, which orbits the Earth, and TESS-L5, which orbits the Sun, have a long baseline, which could allow for more study, such as hunting for solar system items. “You’ll be able to use parallax measurements to figure out where the objects detected are,” he stated, estimating that the combined observations may uncover 500 transneptunian items in the solar system. TESS-L5 alone could detect near-Earth objects nearing the Earth from the sun’s path, which are impossible to observe otherwise, from its vantage point.