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12 December 2013 1:00 pm ,
Vol. 342 ,
- 12 December 2013 1:00 pm , Vol. 342 , #6164
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NASA Picks Next Exoplanet Mission for Launch in 2017
8 April 2013 1:55 pm
NASA plans to launch an exoplanet-hunting satellite and an instrument to study neutron stars in 2017. Both are small missions that could have a big impact.
The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will aim to find terrestrial planets in the habitable zones of nearby stars. It will use an array of wide-field cameras to survey the brightest stars in the sun's neighborhood in hopes of detecting exoplanets such as gas giants and rocky, Earth-sized planets. Some of these planets, researchers hope, will become candidates for follow-up studies of their atmospheres by the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in 2018.
The other mission chosen by NASA is the Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER), which will be deployed on the International Space Station. The instrument will observe x-rays flashed by neutron stars, helping researchers understand the nature of matter contained in these dense, spinning objects that result from the collapse of massive stars.
"TESS will carry out the first space-borne all-sky transit survey, covering 400 times as much sky as any previous mission," said George Ricker, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and principal investigator of the mission, in a statement. "It will identify thousands of new planets in the solar neighborhood, with a special focus on planets comparable in size to the Earth."
Both TESS and NICER have been selected as part of NASA's Explorer program, out of four concept studies submitted to the agency in the fall last year. TESS will get up to $200 million, and NICER—to be led by Keith Gendreau of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland—will receive up to $55 million.