NASA’s new planet-hunter to seek closer, Earth-like worlds

NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, U.S., is shown in this artist's rendering image obtained on April 9, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 16 April 2018
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NASA’s new planet-hunter to seek closer, Earth-like worlds

TAMPA: NASA is poised to launch a $337 million washing machine-sized spacecraft that aims to vastly expand mankind’s search for planets beyond our solar system, particularly closer, Earth-sized ones that might harbor life.
The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, is scheduled to launch Monday at 6:32 p.m. (2232 GMT) atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Its main goal over the next two years is to scan more than 200,000 of the brightest stars for signs of planets circling them and causing a dip in brightness known as a transit.
NASA predicts that TESS will discover 20,000 exoplanets — or planets outside the solar system — including more than 50 Earth-sized planets and up to 500 planets less than twice the size of Earth.
“They are going to be orbiting the nearest, brightest stars,” Elisa Quintana, TESS scientist at NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center, told reporters on Sunday.
“We might even find planets that orbit stars that we can even see with the naked eye,” she added.
“So in the next few years we might even be able to walk outside and point at a star and know that it has a planet. This is the future.”

TESS is designed as a follow-on to the US space agency’s Kepler spacecraft, which was the first of its kind and launched in 2009. Now, the aging spacecraft is low on fuel and near the end of its life.
Kepler found a massive trove of exoplanets by focusing on one patch of sky, which contained about 150,000 stars like the Sun.
The Kepler mission found 2,300 confirmed exoplanets and nearly 4,500 candidates. But many were too distant and dim to study further.
TESS, with its four advanced cameras, will scan an area that is 350 times larger, comprising 85 percent of the sky in the first two years alone.
“By looking at such a large section of the sky — this kind of stellar real estate — we open up the ability to cherry-pick the best stars to do follow up science,” said Jenn Burt, a postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
“On average the stars that TESS finds observes be 30-100 times brighter and 10 times closer than the stars that Kepler focused on.”
Since TESS uses the same method as Kepler for finding potential planets, by tracking the dimming of light when a celestial body passes in front of a star, the next step is for ground-based and space telescopes to peer closer.
The Hubble Space Telescope and the James Webb Space telescope, scheduled to launch in 2020, should be able to reveal more about planets’ mass, density and the makeup of their atmosphere.
“TESS forms a bridge from what we have learned about exoplanets to date and where we are headed in the future,” said Jeff Volosin, TESS project manager at NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center.
By focusing on planets dozens to hundreds of light-years way, TESS should be a stepping stone to future breakthroughs, he said.
“With the hope that someday, in the next decades, we will be able to identify the potential for life to exist outside the solar system.”
Weather was expected to be 80 percent favorable for launch.


SpaceX’s first private passenger is Japanese fashion magnate Maezawa

This artist's illustration courtesy of SpaceX obtained September 17, 2018, shows the SpaceX BFR(Big Falcon Rocket)rocket passenger spacecraft. SpaceX is to reveal on September 17, 2018 the identity of the first person it plans to transport around the Moon in an ambitious project financed entirely by its eccentric CEO Elon Musk. (AFP)
Updated 18 September 2018
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SpaceX’s first private passenger is Japanese fashion magnate Maezawa

  • SpaceX in February transfixed a global audience with the successful test launch of its Falcon Heavy, the most powerful operational rocket in the world
  • SpaceX has already upended the space industry with its relatively low-cost reusable Falcon 9 rockets

HAWTHORNE, California: SpaceX, Elon Musk’s space transportation company, on Monday named its first private passenger as Japanese businessman Yusaku Maezawa, the founder and chief executive of online fashion retailer Zozo.
A former drummer in a punk band, billionaire Maezawa will will take a trip around the moon aboard its forthcoming Big Falcon Rocket spaceship, taking the race to commercialize space travel to new heights.
The first passenger to travel to the moon since the United States’ Apollo missions ended in 1972, Maezawa’s identity was revealed at an event Monday evening at the company’s headquarters and rocket factory in the Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne.
In moves typical of his publicity-seeking style, Musk, who is also the billionaire chief executive of electric car maker Tesla Inc, had previously teased a few tantalizing details about the trip and the passenger’s identity, but left major questions unanswered.
On Thursday, Musk tweeted a picture of a Japanese flag. He followed that up on Sunday with tweets showing new artist renderings of the Big Falcon Rocket, or BFR, the super heavy-lift launch vehicle that Musk promises will shuttle the passenger to the moon and eventually fly humans and cargo to Mars, using the hashtag #OccupyMars.
While the BFR has not been built yet, Musk has said he wants the rocket to be ready for an unpiloted trip to Mars in 2022, with a crewed flight in 2024, though his ambitious production targets have been known to slip.
SpaceX plans a lunar orbit mission. It was not clear how much Maezawa paid for the trip.
Maezawa made his fortune by founding the wildly popular shopping site Zozotown. His company Zozo, officially called Start Today Co. Ltd, also offers a made-to-measure service using a polka dot bodysuit, the Zozosuit..
With SpaceX, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and entrepreneur Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic battling it out to launch private-sector spacecraft, the SpaceX passenger will join a growing list of celebrities and the ultra-rich who have secured seats on flights offered on the under-development vessels.
Those who have signed up to fly on Virgin Galactic sub-orbital missions include actor Leonardo DiCaprio and pop star Justin Bieber. A 90-minute flight costs $250,000.
Short sightseeing trips to space aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket are likely to cost around $200,000 to $300,000, at least to start, Reuters reported in July.
SpaceX has already upended the space industry with its relatively low-cost reusable Falcon 9 rockets. The company has completed more than 50 successful Falcon launches and snagged billions of dollars’ worth of contracts, including deals with NASA and the US Department of Defense.
SpaceX in February transfixed a global audience with the successful test launch of its Falcon Heavy, the most powerful operational rocket in the world.
SpaceX previously announced plans to eventually use Falcon Heavy to launch paying space tourists on a trip around the moon, but Musk said in February he was inclined to reserve that mission for the BFR.