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Orbital Selected By NASA for TESS Astrophysics Satellite
by Staff Writers
Dulles VA (SPX) Apr 26, 2013


The TESS mission was awarded under NASA's Explorer series of lower cost and highly productive space science satellites.

Orbital Sciences has been selected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to design, manufacture, integrate and test a new astrophysics satellite that will perform a full-sky search for exoplanets around nearby stars.

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) satellite program, which will be based on Orbital's proven LEOStar-2 spacecraft platform, will be executed at Orbital's satellite production and testing facility in Dulles, VA. The four-year contract is valued at approximately $75 million.

The mission of the TESS spacecraft is to provide prime exoplanet candidates for further characterization by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), as well as other large ground-based and space-based telescopes in the future. The planned launch of the TESS spacecraft in mid-2017 is well matched to JWST's scheduled launch in 2018 to maintain momentum in NASA's exoplanet program.

"We are honored to have the opportunity to support MIT and Goddard in this pioneering astrophysics mission that will result in the first space-borne all-sky exoplanet transit survey," said Mr. Mike Miller, Orbital's Senior Vice President of Science and Environmental Satellite Programs.

"Our reliable and affordable line of LEOStar spacecraft, coupled with MIT's world-class science leadership and Goddard's experienced mission management team, will provide an innovative space science mission for NASA in the most cost-effective way possible."

Chosen for its scientific value and low-risk development plan, the TESS mission will perform an all-sky survey using an unique array of telescopes to discover exoplanets orbiting nearby stars and will seek to identify habitable, Earth-like planets.

TESS will further the study of small exoplanets, first uncovered by NASA's Kepler spacecraft, by examining an immense quantity of small planets that surround the sky's brightest stars.

The stars examined by Kepler are fainter and more difficult to study than those TESS will survey, and past ground-based observations have been limited to only giant exoplanets, thereby ensuring that TESS will provide a compelling new catalog of stars hosting transiting exoplanets, suitable for future missions to study.

The TESS mission was awarded under NASA's Explorer series of lower cost and highly productive space science satellites. Orbital has built multiple Explorer satellites for NASA in the past, including the NuSTAR, Swift, GALEX, AIM and IBEX spacecraft, all of which are currently operational and providing valuable scientific data.

The TESS project is being led by Principal Investigator Dr. George Ricker of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, MA, and mission management is performed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

The TESS mission features partners from the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research (MKI) and MIT Lincoln Laboratory, NASA's Ames Research Center, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, The Aerospace Corporation, and the Space Telescope Science Institute. The two-year astrophysics mission will be funded by a $200 million award from NASA.

The TESS mission will rely on Orbital's LEOStar-2 platform, a flexible, high-performance spacecraft for space and Earth science, remote sensing and other applications.

Spacecraft built on the LEOStar-2 bus have such performance options as redundancy, propulsion capability, high data rate communications, and high-agility/high-accuracy pointing. The LEOStar-2 series of spacecraft have supported multiple missions for commercial and government customers over the past 15 years.

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