NASA says it has lost contact with mini-satellites searching nearby stars for unseen planets

NASA says it has lost contact with mini-satellites searching nearby stars for unseen planets

  • The ASTERIA satellite lost communication on 5 December
  • NASA says it will continue to try to communicate with it until March 2020
  • ASTERIA was designed to free up space for new planets and was deployed in 2017

A satellite-operated satellite designed to hunt for distant planets may have disappeared for good.

According to the agency, NASA lost contact with its Arcsecond Space Telescope Enabling Research in Astrophysics (ASTERIA), a spacecraft the size of a suitcase designed to study planets outside our solar system.

According to NASA, communication was broken on December 5 and the agency will continue to try to achieve it until March 2020.

“The ASTERIA project has achieved excellent results during its three-month main mission and its nearly two-year extended mission,” says Lorraine Fesq of JPL, current ASTERIA program manager.

“Although we are disappointed that we have lost contact with the spacecraft, we are happy with everything we have achieved with this impressive CubeSat.”

The satellite, called a CubeSat, has been sending data back to NASA since 2017 and examining the cosmos for dips in brightness that usually correspond to planets in the area.

It completed its primary mission in early February 2018 and has since carried out three mission extensions.

In addition to roaming space in search of planets, it has been used as a platform to test different ways to make CubeSats more autonomous, using artificial intelligence.

NASA says ASTERIA paved the way for smaller and cheaper satellite missions with CubeSats and could even help complete larger missions such as NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Satellite Survey (TESS).

TESS, called NASA’s “planet fighter,” is billed as the successor of a Kepler satellite and is equipped with four cameras that allow it to view 85 percent of the entire sky, while the exoplanets around stars search less than 300 light-years away.

By studying objects much clearer than the Kepler goals, TESS tries to find new clues about the possibility of living elsewhere in the universe.

The four widescreen cameras will view the sky in 26 segments, each of which is observed one by one.

“The technology demonstration showed that many technologies needed to study and possibly find exoplanets (planets orbiting around stars other than our sun) can be scaled down to fit on small satellites,” NASA wrote in a statement.