National Academies: NASA Should Lead Large Direct Imaging Mission to Study Earth-Like Exoplanets

WASHINGTON (National Academies PR) – To answer significant questions about planetary systems, such as whether our solar system is a rare phenomenon or if life exists on planets other than Earth, NASA should lead a large direct imaging mission – an advanced space telescope – capable of studying Earth-like exoplanets orbiting stars similar to the sun, says a new congressionally mandated report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

The study of exoplanets – planets outside our solar system that orbit a star – has seen remarkable discoveries in the past decade. The report identifies two overarching goals in this field of science:

  • To understand the formation and evolution of planetary systems as products of star formation and characterize the diversity of their architectures, composition, and environments.
  • To learn enough about exoplanets to identify potentially habitable environments and search for scientific evidence of life on worlds orbiting other stars.

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NASA’s Webb Space Telescope to Inspect Atmospheres of Gas Giant Exoplanets

This is an artist’s impression of the Jupiter-size extrasolar planet, HD 189733b, being eclipsed by its parent star. Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have measured carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide in the planet’s atmosphere. The planet is a “hot Jupiter,” which is so close to its star that it completes an orbit in only 2.2 days. The planet is too hot for life as we know it. But under the right conditions, on a more Earth-like world, carbon dioxide can indicate the presence of extraterrestrial life. This observation demonstrates that chemical biotracers can be detected by space telescope observations.[Credits: ESA, NASA, M. Kornmesser (ESA/Hubble), and STScI]
GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — In April 2018, NASA launched the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). Its main goal is to locate Earth-sized planets and larger “super-Earths” orbiting nearby stars for further study.  One of the most powerful tools that will examine the atmospheres of some planets that TESS discovers will be NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. Since observing small exoplanets with thin atmospheres like Earth will be challenging for Webb, astronomers will target easier, gas giant exoplanets first.

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AGU & AAS Awarded Joint Grant from The Kavli Foundation to Foster Understanding of Exoplanets

Hot exoplanet (Credit: ESA/ATG medialab, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO )

WASHINGTON, DC (AGU/AAS PR) ―The American Geophysical Union (AGU) and the American Astronomical Society (AAS) have received a grant from The Kavli Foundation to advance exoplanet science. This cooperative effort will help integrate the work of the AGU’s and AAS’s scientific communities through a joint steering committee, special sessions at both societies’ annual meetings, and topical conferences and workshops.

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NASA’s TESS Spacecraft Continues Testing Prior to First Observations

TESS exoplanet satellite (Credit: NASA)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — After a successful launch on April 18, 2018, NASA’s newest planet hunter, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, is currently undergoing a series of commissioning tests before it begins searching for planets. The TESS team has reported that the spacecraft and cameras are in good health, and the spacecraft has successfully reached its final science orbit. The team continues to conduct tests in order to optimize spacecraft performance with a goal of beginning science at the end of July.

Every new mission goes through a commissioning period of testing and adjustments before beginning science operations. This serves to test how the spacecraft and its instruments are performing and determines whether any changes need to be made before the mission starts observations.

TESS is a NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission led and operated by MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Dr. George Ricker of MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research serves as principal investigator for the mission. Additional partners include Northrop Grumman, based in Falls Church, Virginia; NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley; the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts; MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Massachusetts; and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. More than a dozen universities, research institutes and observatories worldwide are participants in the mission.

For the latest updates on TESS, visit nasa.gov/tess.

NASA’s Kepler Spacecraft Pauses Science Observations to Download Science Data

This artist’s concept depicts select planetary discoveries made to date by NASA’s Kepler space telescope. (Credit: NASA/W. Stenzel)

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — Earlier this week, NASA’s Kepler team received an indication that the spacecraft fuel tank is running very low. NASA has placed the spacecraft in a hibernation-like state in preparation to download the science data collected in its latest observation campaign. Once the data has been downloaded, the expectation is to start observations for the next campaign with any remaining fuel.

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NASA FDL Leverages Public/Private Partnership to Push New Boundaries of Space Science with Artificial Intelligence


AI Accelerator to Focus on Key Challenges in Space Resources, Astrobiology, Space Weather, And Exoplanets to Benefit the Space Program and Humanity

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (SETI Institute/NASA PR) — The NASA Frontier Development Lab (FDL) has announced it will apply artificial intelligence (AI) to four key space challenges. FDL is an AI/machine learning research accelerator powered by a public/private partnership between NASA, the SETI Institute, commercial leaders in AI, and pioneers in the private space industry.

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Will We Know Life When We See It? NASA-led Group Takes Stock of the Science

Artist’s conception of what life could look like on the surface of a distant planet. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — In the last decade we have discovered thousands of planets outside our solar system and have learned that rocky, temperate worlds are numerous in our galaxy. The next step will involve asking even bigger questions. Could some of these planets host life? And if so, will we be able to recognize life elsewhere if we see it?

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NASA’s New Planet Hunter Snaps Initial Test Image, Swings by Moon Toward Final Orbit

This test image from one of the four cameras aboard the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) captures a swath of the southern sky along the plane of our galaxy. TESS is expected to cover more than 400 times the amount of sky shown in this image when using all four of its cameras during science operations. (Credits: NASA/MIT/TESS)

GREEBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — NASA’s next planet hunter, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), is one step closer to searching for new worlds after successfully completing a lunar flyby on May 17. The spacecraft passed about 5,000 miles from the Moon, which provided a gravity assist that helped TESS sail toward its final working orbit.

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SpaceX Falcon 9 Launches NASA’s TESS Spacecraft

TESS exoplanet satellite (Credit: NASA)

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) on Wednesday evening. The spacecraft successfully separated from the booster’s second stage about 50 minutes after it was launched from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

TESS will use four cameras to search 85 percent of the sky for exoplanets orbiting other stars. The mission is a follow-on to the Kepler Space Telescope, which is completing a 9-year mission to survey the other 15 percent of the sky.

The on time launch occurred at 6:51 p.m. EDT. NASA reports the spacecraft’s solar arrays deployed on schedule, providing the satellite with power.

Falcon 9’s first stage successfully landed on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

SpaceX Scrubs, Pence Announces Stuff

TESS exoplanet satellite (Credit: NASA)

SpaceX has scrubbed the launch of NASA’s TESS exo-planet hunting satellite, which had been planned for Monday evening.

“Standing down today to conduct additional GNC analysis, and teams are now working towards a targeted launch of on Wednesday, April 18,” the company tweeted.

Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence addressed the 34th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs earlier today. He made the following announcements:

  • Ret. Adm. Jim Ellis has been named to lead the National Space Council’s Users Advisory Group; and,
  • The space council has come up with a set of guidelines on space traffic management that will be signed by President Donald Trump and implemented by the Commerce Department.  A key goal of the new guidelines is to deal with the threat of orbital debris.

That’s all, folks!

NIAC Phase II Awards Focused on Astronomy

Kilometer Space Telescope. A single pixel from a galaxy in the Fornax Cluster (left) could appear more like a HST image of the Large Megallanic Cloud (right). (Credit: Devon Crowe)

The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program recently awarded 25 grants for the development of visionary new technologies. Here we’re going to take a closer look at the following two Phase II awards focused on space astronomy.

Direct Multipixel Imaging and Spectroscopy of an Exoplanet with a Solar Gravity Lens Mission
Slava Turyshev
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Kilometer Space Telescope (KST)
Devon Crowe
Raytheon

Each award is worth up to $500,000 for a two-year study. Descriptions of the awards are below.

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NASA Prepares to Launch Next Mission to Search Sky for New Worlds

TESS exoplanet satellite (Credit: NASA)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is undergoing final preparations in Florida for its April 16 launch to find undiscovered worlds around nearby stars, providing targets where future studies will assess their capacity to harbor life.

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A Closer Look at NASA’s FY 2018 Budget


by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Despite a last minute threat of a veto, President Donald Trump signed an $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill on Friday that boosts NASA spending by about $1.1 billion to $20.7 billion.

So, with the fiscal year nearly half over, let’s take a closer look at NASA’s FY 2018 budget, which the Administration had tried to cut. The table below lays out the numbers from the omnibus bill, the Administration’s request and the FY 2017 budget.

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UK Team to Lead European Mission to Study New Planets

ARIEL spacecraft (Credit: ESA/STFC RAL Space/UCL/Europlanet-Science Office)

SWINDON, England (UKSA PR) — A multi-million pound European mission to study newly discovered planets will be led by University College London, supported by investment from the UK Space Agency.

The ARIEL (Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey) mission was selected today as the next European Space Agency (ESA) science mission, putting UK leadership at the heart of research into planets that lie outside our solar system – exoplanets.

Thousands of exoplanets have now been discovered with a huge diversity of masses, sizes and orbits, but very little is known about their chemical composition, formation, or their evolutionary links to their host stars.

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ESA’s Next Science Mission to Focus on Nature of Exoplanets

Hot exoplanet (Credit: ESA/ATG medialab, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO )

PARIS (ESA PR) — The nature of planets orbiting stars in other systems will be the focus for ESA’s fourth medium-class science mission, to be launched in mid 2028.

Ariel, the Atmospheric Remote‐sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large‐survey mission, was selected by ESA today as part of its Cosmic Vision plan.
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