SpaceX launching NASA's exoplanet-hunting spacecraft at 3:51 pm PDT

TESS Mission - NASA Blogs

NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) launches from Cape Canaveral Wednesday aboard one of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets after getting hit with a 48-hour delay.

TESS is expected to reveal 20,000 planets beyond our solar system, including more than 50 Earth-sized planets and up to 500 planets less than twice the size of the Earth, NASA said.

The Hubble Space Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch in 2020, should be able to reveal more about planets' mass, density and the makeup of their atmosphere - all clues to habitability. TESS will then use a series of complex maneuvers to head into a never-before-used orbit, reaching about 232,000 miles beyond the Earth, to photograph the skies. "The mission will find exoplanets that periodically block part of the light from their host stars, events called transits", NASA says in a Wednesday news release.

"The stories of these planets will continue on, long after their detection", Martin Still, TESS program scientist, said Wednesday.

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SpaceX has made a habit out of landing its rockets over the past couple of years; if successful, this would be the 24th recovered booster.

Once in orbit, the spacecraft will peer at hundreds of thousands of bright neighboring stars, seeking planets that might support life. The Transitioning Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is created to search the stars for other planets outside our solar system, and it's equipped with new tech in order for it to be able to detect relatively small planets orbiting other suns. Scientists expect Tess to identify thousands of planets in our cosmic backyard, adding to the bounty provided over the past decade by NASA's Kepler Space Telescope.

Kepler's trove of more than 2,300 confirmed planets outside our solar was impressive, but most were too distant and dim to be examined further. But those found by TESS should be close enough for mega telescopes in the future to detect any atmospheric signs of life. "By human nature, we look for exploration and adventure, and this is an opportunity to see what's next", NASA's Sandra Connelly, a science program director, said Sunday on the eve of the originally scheduled launch, which was pushed back until Wednesday.

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket stands on its launch pad in Florida, set to launch NASA's planet-hunting TESS probe. SpaceX halted Monday's countdown for extra rocket checks.

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