Humans have a severe case of societal loneliness. We send signals out into the void in the hopes that someone might answer, we launch spacecraft into the interstellar medium with a record of our civilization, we push the edges of our technology to seek evidence of long-extinct microbial and unicellular life on the Moon, Mars, asteroids, and other bodies in our solar system. On a less evidential level, we seek clues, stories, and anecdotes that could enable us to believe that our species is not alone in the universe: points of light in the sky, a circle painted on a cave wall ten thousand years ago, unexplained happenings all over the world.
As a bit of a side project at work recently, I did some modeling work on TESS, which is a NASA spacecraft that was launched to help search for exoplanets using the transit method (I know, you could never have guessed that from the name's acronym breakdown). Working with satellites as much as I do, this was a really interesting project, because it was quite distinctive in its orbit and mission architecture from most spacecraft that I get to study on a regular basis. For one thing, it is a remarkably low-cost, robust, straightforward system, quite different from what you often see with NASA programs, which because of their scientific goals are often pushing the very edge of our capabilities and therefore become very complex and very expensive. For another, it utilizes a simply fascinating orbit. Since I've been trying to post occasional in-depth articles on various academic topics, it seemed appropriate to share some of what I learned from that project here.