MIT researchers deliver cameras for Nasa’s TESS mission


A research team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US has developed and delivered a set of four cameras that will be integrated with Nasa’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission.

Set to be launched next year, the mission is designed to explore the stars in search of planets outside the solar system. The two-year mission is led by MIT and managed by Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Centre.

Delivered to Orbital ATK for integration onto the satellite, the cameras have already completed a successful inspection by Nasa.

They were developed by researchers at MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research and the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, and feature large-aperture, wide-angle lenses designed to survey the entire sky.

“The instantaneous field of view of the TESS cameras, combined with their area and detector sensitivity, is unprecedented in a space mission.”

Each of the cameras includes a lens assembly comprising seven optical elements and a detector with four charge-coupled device (CCD) sensor chips.

It took four years for the researchers to design, build and test the cameras.

MIT Kavli Institute senior research scientist and TESS principal investigator George Ricker said: “The TESS four-camera ensemble instantaneously views a section of sky that is more than 20 times greater than that for the Kepler mission.

“The instantaneous field of view of the TESS cameras, combined with their area and detector sensitivity, is unprecedented in a space mission.”

When deployed, TESS will divide the sky into 26 ‘stitched’ sections and will point its cameras at each of the directions in turn for 27 days.

During the first year of its operation, the mission is expected to explore the Southern Hemisphere, while the Northern Hemisphere will be explored in the second year.

The data provided by the cameras will first be processed by TESS’ on-board computer and then will be transmitted to Earth every two weeks via the Nasa Deep Space Network and will be forwarded to the TESS Payload Operations Centre at MIT.


Image: Engineers test one of the TESS cameras at the Kavli Institute lab. Photo: courtesy of Kavli Institute / Massachusetts Institute of Technology.