NASA loses contact with tiny exoplanet hunter ASTERIA two years since its launch

NASA's JPL will continue to make attempts to get in touch with the CubeSat till March 2020.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has lost contact with one of its exoplanet-hunting CubeSats ASTERIA.

The Arcsecond Space Telescope Enabling Research in Astrophysics (ASTERIA) is a briefcase-sized satellite that was deployed on 20 November 2017 to seek out exoplanets — any planets that orbit a star and lie outside our solar system.

The short-term missions of ASTERIA were to demonstrate that the technology required to find exoplanets can be shrunk in size to fit into a small Cubesat, and its long-term missions were to show that CubeSats could assist larger exoplanet missions like NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Satellite Survey (TESS).

NASA engineers preapres the ASTERIA spacecraft in April 2017 prior to its launch. Image credit: NASA

NASA engineers prepare the ASTERIA spacecraft in April 2017 prior to its launch. Image credit: NASA

The last successful communication with ASTERIA was on 5 December 2019. NASA hopes to continue its attempts to get in touch with it till March 2020. ASTERIA's mission was completed in February 2018, after which it was tasked with three mission extensions.

The CubeSat, as per a statement, observed a handful of nearby stars and successfully demonstrated that it could achieve precision measurements of the stars' brightness. Scientists are looking at the collected data to find if ASTERIA spotted any distant worlds. The dips in a star's light can indicate if an orbiting planet passing between the satellite and the star.

"The ASTERIA project achieved outstanding results during its three-month prime mission and its nearly two-year-long extended mission," said JPL's Lorraine Fesq, the ASTERIA program manager in a press release.

"Although we are disappointed that we lost contact with the spacecraft, we are thrilled with all that we have accomplished with this impressive CubeSat."

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