Test photo taken as TESS performs lunar flyby
NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) took an image using one of the four cameras on board the spacecraft. The image is a two-second exposure centered on the Centaurus constellation in the southern sky.
The photo was taken as TESS completed a lunar flyby on May 17, 2018. The successful gravity assist maneuver brought the spacecraft within about 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometers) from the surface of the Moon, slinging the vehicle toward its working orbit.
To finalize its orbit, TESS has one final thruster burn, which is scheduled for May 30, 2018. Once complete, the exoplanet hunter should be in a highly-elliptical orbit that takes it out of the Earth-Moon plane. This orbit is designed to allow the spacecraft to continuously monitor large areas space as well as maximize the amount of sky the vehicle’s four cameras can image.
The test image taken by one of the cameras on board shows an area that contains over 200,000 stars, according to NASA. In the lower left of the image, Beta Centauri—one of the closest starts to Earth other than the sun—burns brightly. In the upper right sits the Coalsack Nebula.
“TESS is performing well so far, and this early image gives us a glimpse of the capabilities of NASA’s newest Explorer mission,” says TESS project scientist Stephen Rinehart. “We’re looking forward to a panoply of great discoveries in exoplanets, as well as studies of asteroids, stars and galaxies, when the community gets their collective hands on the data.”
When all four cameras are operational, TESS is expected to cover over 400 times more area than shown in this first photograph, NASA said.
Before science operations can begin, the cameras aboard TESS are expected to undergo final checkouts, including camera calibrations. Once those are complete, a “first light” science quality image is expected to be taken and transmitted to Earth. NASA said that image should be released to the public sometime in June 2018.
NASA’s TESS spacecraft is a follow-on to the Kepler Space Telescope that located over 2,300 confirmed planets as well as over 3,600 planet candidates during the operational life of the vehicle.
TESS uses the transit method to locate exoplanets. This methodology looks for the host star to dim as a planet passes between the star and the onboard cameras. This drop in brightness and the associated wobble of the host star provides clues to the size, orbit, and composition of the suspected exoplanet.
NASA expects the spacecraft to find thousands of exoplanets during its mission. TESS is designed specifically to look at 500,000 nearby stars for possible planets.
TESS was launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket April 18, 2018, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The 798-pound (362-kilogram) spacecraft’s final science orbit involves it orbiting Earth at a 37 degree inclination every 14 days. The nominal orbit takes the vehicle to a maximum distance of 233,000 miles (375,000 kilometers) from Earth with a perigee (low point in the orbit) of 67,000 miles (108,000 kilometers).
Video courtesy of NASA Goddard
Joe Latrell is a life-long avid space enthusiast having created his own rocket company in Roswell, NM in addition to other consumer space endeavors. He continues to design, build and launch his own rockets and has a passion to see the next generation excited about the opportunities of space exploration. Joe lends his experiences from the corporate and small business arenas to organizations such as Teachers In Space, Inc. He is also actively engaged in his church investing his many skills to assist this and other non-profit endeavors.