SpaceX to Launch NASA's Exoplanet-Hunting Spacecraft Today


But the primary goal of the flight was to launch NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, a relatively modest spacecraft equipped with four state-of-the-art digital cameras created to measure the light from millions of stars in search of the tell-tale dimming that occurs when an exoplanet moves in front, or "transits".

TESS is created to concentrate on stars less than 300 light-years away.

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The goal of this project is to answer the question, are we really alone?

By finding exoplanets with TESS and investigating them with other telescopes, astronomers hope to identify rocky planets existing in the habitable "Goldilocks zone" of a star, where the conditions are just right for supporting life. From there, it will search for a telltale darkening of starsas planets pass in front of them. The company is confident to recover the first stage of the rocket.

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If everything goes smoothly today, TESS will launch on a two-year tour to survey the sky, breaking it into 26 sections, each 24 degrees by 96 degrees across, specifically looking for exoplanets that periodically block part of the light from their host stars.

The launch was originally scheduled for Monday, but was scrubbed two hours before because SpaceX announced it needed more time to check its rocket, which will carry the satellite to orbit. This unique orbit keeps the spacecraft away from areas of high radiation, maximizes the amount of sky it can observe, and keeps it very stable. Fortunately, NASA's got our backs: you can watch a live stream of the launch right here!

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For more about TESS, check out our earlier story and the mission website. You can see some imaginative guesses from members of the public at the Fly your Exoplanet webpage, and even submit your own. The targets TESS finds are going to be fantastic subjects for research for decades to come.