SpaceX is about to launch NASA's revolutionary planet-hunting telescope

Jeannie Matthews
April 17, 2018

NASA is on the brink of sending a satellite into space that it believes will discover thousands of new planets within the next few years.

SpaceX is targeting launch of NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) on Wednesday, April 18 from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

In a tweet, the aerospace company said the team was standing down to run additional analyses on the guidance, navigation and control systems.

All being well, NASA is set to make its TESS launch later today from Cape Canaveral on board a Space X Falcon 9 rocket. It will send TESS into a high-elliptical orbit around our planet, like that of the Moon.

NASA reported that the TESS spacecraft itself remains in excellent health as it perches nervously on top of the Falcon 9.

The launch of TESS will be immediately beneficial to scientists down here on Earth, but the satellite will also lay the groundwork for future missions, most notably the European Space Agency's Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey (ARIEL) spacecraft. After its two-year mission, TESS will be replaced by the James Webb Space Telescope, a space telescope scheduled to launch in May 2020.

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"Fifty, sixty, 100 years from now, you could use those same techniques to thoroughly explore the solar neighborhood", said MIT's George Ricker, principal investigator for the TESS mission.

"We might even find planets that orbit stars that we can even see with the naked eye", she added. No satellites have been put into this orbit thus far.

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will scan nearly the entire sky, staring at the brightest, closest stars in an effort to find any planets that might be encircling them. TESS is an Earth-orbiting instrument meant to spot faraway planets circling some 200,000 stars within 300 light-years of Earth.

TESS scientists expect the mission to catalogue thousands of potential exoplanets.

"TESS's legacy will be a catalog of the nearest and brightest stars hosting transiting exoplanets, which will comprise the most favorable targets for detailed investigations in the coming decades", NASA notes. For ages, they have wondered and worked hard for finding new life on a different planet. Repeated dips would indicate a planet passing in front of its star. Kepler has found more than 2,300 confirmed exoplanets over its lifetime. We can say how massive they are and how old they are.

"One of the many fantastic things that Kepler told us is that planets are everywhere and there are all kinds of planets out there".

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