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Exoplanet Hunting with CubeSats

4 Jun 2020, 16:10 UTC
Exoplanet Hunting with CubeSats
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55 Cancri e is a confirmed planet, and thus a departure from our topic of the last two days, which was the act of exoplanet confirmation as regards Proxima Centauri b and c, the latter still in need of further work before it can be considered confirmed. But 55 Cancri e has its uses in offering a tight orbit around a Sun-like star that can be detected using the transit method. That was just what was needed for ASTERIA (Arcsecond Space Telescope Enabling Research in Astrophysics), a technology demonstration mission involving a tiny CubeSat.
Sara Seager (MIT) has been at the heart of the investigation of CubeSats as exoplanet research platforms. I think the idea is brilliant. If we want to mount the most effective search of nearby Sun-like stars for Earth analogs, multiple telescopes must be in use. CubeSats are cheap. Why not launch a fleet of them, each with the task of monitoring a single star at a time. Launched in 2017, ASTERIA was the prototype, a nanosatellite equipped with precision pointing control and thermal stability of the sort needed to meet the tight tolerances of such observations.

Image: Left to right: Electrical Test Engineer Esha Murty ...

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