NASA to decide on use of smaller spacecraft for planet-hunting
Kolkata: US Space agency NASA will decide by February next year whether smaller spacecraft TESS could be used for planet-hunting in the future.
TESS, which is is proposed by MIT for NASA's Small Explorer program, will be able to survey the entire sky unlike Kepler that focusses on a fixed area.
The all-sky survey program is aimed at exploring transiting exoplanets around closer and bright stars.
"Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is the future spacecraft which is smaller than the Kepler spacecraft. By February, we will get to know if TESS will work," Kepler's deputy science team leader at NASA's Ames Research Center in California, Natalie Batalha, said after delivering a lecture to students here.
Batalha said that if NASA finds TESS feasible, then it could be launched by 2016.
She said that the agency's Kepler mission has discovered 2,300 planets, of which about 50 were in the habitable zone, but not the right size.
Kepler is the first NASA mission capable of finding Earth-size planets in or near the habitable zone, the region in a planetary system where liquid water could exist on the planet’s surface.
In November, NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, which was launched to find potentially habitable, Earth-sized planets, successfully completed its three-and-a-half-year prime mission and embarked on an extended one that could last four years.
Launched on March 6, 2009, scientists have used Kepler data to identify more than 2,300 planet candidates and confirm more than 100 planets, finding the galaxy is teeming with planetary systems, that planets are prolific and hints that nature makes small planets efficiently.
So far, hundreds of Earth-size planet candidates have been found as well as candidates that orbit in the habitable zone, the region in a planetary system where liquid water might exist on the surface of a planet, NASA has said.