Nasa's planet-hunting Tess satellite launches into space

Solar panels are deployed on NASA's TESS satellite in the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at Kennedy Space Center

TESS Mission - NASA Blogs

NASA said the countdown was uneventful "highlighted by excellent weather and healthy hardware". Sensitive photometric equipment on board TESS will look for slight decreases in the brightness of relatively nearby stars, indicative of exoplanets "transiting" in front of their hosts.

SpaceX is planning to launch NASA's planet-hunting satellite TESS into outer space at 6:51 p.m. ET, from Cape Canaveral.

A SpaceX rocket blasted off from Florida on Wednesday evening with NASA's planet-hunting orbital telescope created to detect worlds beyond our solar system that might be capable of harbouring life.

TESS will survey the nearest and brightest stars for two years to search for transiting exoplanets, according to scientists. Red dwarfs also have a high propensity for Earth-sized, presumably rocky planets, making them potentially fertile ground for further scrutiny. SpaceX has reused 11 of the first stages already, although this particular Falcon 9 rocket was new.

"Wow, are we excited. We think that all the stars must have their own family of planets", said Paul Hertz, director of the Astrophysics division at NASA Headquarters. "The Falcon 9 continues to demonstrate what a reliable vehicle it has become", Dunn said.

Tess rode a SpaceX Falcon rocket through the evening sky, aiming for an orbit stretching all the way to the moon. What's more, TESS is looking for particular types of planet, rather than taking a broader census of what's out there.

The mission will explore a large number of stars based on transits of planets against the background stars. Numerous leaders of the TESS mission and the field of exoplanet studies in general were trained in an era when we truly didn't know if our sun was uniquely well endowed.

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TESS is a follow-up to the Kepler spacecraft, one of NASA's most successful missions which found more than 2,600 exoplanets, most orbiting faint stars between 300 and 3,000 light-years from Earth using the transit method.

TESS will as well be gunning for the stars that are 30 to 100 times brighter than the targets of Kepler.

The brightness of these target stars will allow researchers to use spectroscopy, the study of the absorption and emission of light, to determine a planet's mass, density and atmospheric composition. As for its capacity to harbor life, water and other key molecules in the atmosphere will provide hints.

Scientists have divided the sky into 26 sectors.

It will survey the entire sky over the course of two years. "It's flawless timing that we'll be launching TESS to continue the great activity of looking for planets around stars other than our Sun and thinking about what [those discoveries] might mean for life in the universe".

Update 16 April 2018: The scheduled 16 April launch of the TESS satellite has been delayed.

Roughly the size of a refrigerator with solar-panel wings and equipped with four special cameras, TESS will take about 60 days to reach a highly elliptical, first-of-a-kind orbit looping it between Earth and the moon every two and a half weeks. "The idea of finding other things on other planets sparks things in people", Robert Lockwood, TESS spacecraft manager at Orbital ATK, told Observer. Moreover, TESS shouldn't have to perform too many attitude corrections in this orbit, mission team members have said. TESS's four wide-field cameras were developed by MIT's Lincoln Laboratory.

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