The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), a project of MIT, was selected by NASA as part of its Explorer Program to launch in 2017 and will be funded by a $200 million grant. It will use wide-field cameras to search for planets, both small and large, orbiting the brightest stars near the sun.
So how does it differ from Kepler and other previous planet-hunting space telescopes? According to principal investigator George Ricker, “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.”
It will have the capability of measuring the orbits, sizes, masses, densities and atmospheres of the planets it finds. This includes rocky planets like Earth orbiting in the habitable zones of their stars.
Artist’s conception of TESS. Credit: Chet Beals / MIT Lincoln Lab