Discovery of new worlds all in a day’s work for TESS

Stephen Kuper

Northrop Grumman has celebrated a year of successful research operations for NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), built and operated by the company.

In just one year, the observatory has discovered more than 20 confirmed planets and identified hundreds of additional candidates for further study in the southern hemisphere. TESS will now continue its mission by performing similar observations in the northern hemisphere.

Steve Krein, vice president, civil and commercial satellites at Northrop Grumman, said, "The TESS observatory is exceeding expectations after just one year scanning the skies."

As the first-ever satellite to perform an exoplanet survey of nearly the entire sky, TESS’ mission, using four wide-field cameras, is to identify planets ranging from Earth-sized to Jupiter-sized, orbiting a wide range of stellar types at various orbital distances.

TESS began scanning the skies for new planets on 16 July 2018, nearly three months after its successful 18 April launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.


The TESS satellite was designed, manufactured and tested by Northrop Grumman at the company’s satellite manufacturing facility in Dulles. The company is also responsible for handling mission operations for the observatory.

After launch, the observatory went through several tests and began preparation for a series of in-space manoeuvres, including a lunar gravity assist, to reach its targeted high-Earth orbit. This lunar fly-by was executed 17 May 2018 and the final period-adjustment manoeuvre was performed 29 May.


"As the provider of mission operations for the spacecraft, Northrop Grumman is proud to support this historic mission as it continues to expand our knowledge of the universe while demonstrating our legacy of flight proven scientific spacecraft," Krein added. 

The mission team recently announced the discovery of yet another planet, between the sizes of Mars and Earth. The planet, called L 98-59b, marks the tiniest discovered by TESS to date. L 98-59b is around 80 per cent Earth’s size. Its host star, L 98-59, is an M dwarf about one-third the mass of the sun and lies about 35 light years away.

TESS is based on Northrop Grumman’s LEOStar-2 bus, a flight-proven and flexible satellite platform that accommodates a wide variety of missions. The company has several other satellites in production for upcoming NASA missions including Landsat-9 and the JPSS-2, -3 and -4 weather spacecraft, which use the larger LEOStar-3 bus.

Northrop Grumman is a leading global security company providing innovative systems, products and solutions in autonomous systems, cyber, C4ISR, space, strike, and logistics and modernisation to customers worldwide. 


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