How a Pocket-Size Satellite Could Find Another Earth

Radio Amateur Sara Seager KB1WTW - Image Credit PlanetQuest

Time Magazine reports that unlike the massive NASA Kepler probe the next mission to search for new planets will be a tiny CubeSat called ExoplanetSat.

Sara Seager KB1WTW with ExoplanetSat

Sara Seager KB1WTW with model of ExoplanetSat - Image Credit MIT

Time says: What makes ExoplanetSat even more un-NASA-like is that it began as a class project — although admittedly, the class was at MIT. It was a design-and-build course, which the university’s engineering students have to take in order to graduate. In a recent semester, the class was co-taught by Sara Seager [KB1WTW] an astrophysicist who has done groundbreaking research studying how the atmospheres of planets orbiting distant stars might look like from earthly telescopes. Seager recruited five science undergrads to join her engineers, on the theory that out in the real world, they’d eventually have to work with engineers anyway.

The group lead by Sara KB1WTW is developing a prototype ExoplanetSat capable of monitoring a single, bright, sun-like star for two years. Planned to launch late 2012 or 2013 it is hoped it will open the gates for ExoplanetSat interest and funding. Once the funding doors are opened, then the fleet of ExoplanetSats can be launched. The fleet may contain as many as a hundred of these small satellites, each focused on its own star.

In a 2011 visit to Cambridge, UK, Sara said “The reason why we’re excited is because we think that this is a really huge thing. Hundreds and thousands of years from now, people will look back and ask, what are the significant accomplishments of our society in the early twenty-first century? One of them will be that we were the first to discover other worlds and other worlds that might be like Earth. When you think back four hundred years, what do you remember? You think about Christopher Columbus and Lewis and Clark. It’s the exploration—finding things that were new to our culture. And that’s why we’re excited.

Read the Times Magazine article at http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2114158,00.html

MIT paper on ExoplanetSat http://dspace.mit.edu/openaccess-disseminate/1721.1/61644

Presentation Slides http://mstl.atl.calpoly.edu/~bklofas/Presentations/DevelopersWorkshop2011/5_Smith_ExoplanetSat.pdf

PlanetQuest http://planetquest.jpl.nasa.gov/