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New satellite to join hunt for planets

April 9, 2013 at 6:55 PM   |   Comments

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., April 9 (UPI) -- NASA says it will send a satellite dubbed TESS into orbit in 2017 with the goal of finding planets in our cosmic neighborhood that may be hospitable to life.

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite will survey the entire sky for planets orbiting stars between 200 to 300 light years away, the space agency reported.

The mission will carry on the work of the Kepler space telescope, but whereas Kepler has only been scanning a small portion of the sky since 2009, TESS will eventually include the entire sky in its scanning search for planets.

"In its two-year mission, TESS will cover 400 times the solid angle covered by Kepler," project leader George Ricker of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Kavli Institute said in a statement provided to the Los Angeles Times. "On average TESS target stars will be about 10 times closer than Kepler target stars."

The closer a planet and its host star is to Earth, the more opportunity for earthbound and other satellite telescopes to join in observations, researchers said.

"We expect TESS will find 1,000 planets or more and those systems will be relatively close to us, making them great targets for following up in the future," Doug Hudgins, TESS program scientist for NASA, said.

The MIT Kavli team has received a $200-million grant from NASA to build their satellite, which will carry four cameras, each about 2 feet long with a lens about 5 inches in diameter.

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