Watch NASA Launch TESS, Its Latest Planet Hunter

New NASA spacecraft, to be launched tonight, could find thousands of new worlds soon

New NASA spacecraft, to be launched tonight, could find thousands of new worlds soon

NASA says it will be able to detect them when they periodically block part of the light from their host stars.

"We are ready to go", Volosin said Sunday during a pre-launch news conference at Kennedy Space Center.

TESS will launch on one of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets-the same class of rocket that has sent several Dragon capsules to the International Space Station with supplies.

TESS will survey far more cosmic terrain than its predecessor, NASA's Kepler Space Telescope which launched in 2009, taking in some 85 percent of the skies.

The satellite known as Tess will survey nearly the entire sky, staring at the brightest, closest stars in an effort to find any planets that might be encircling them. The mission is expected to create a database of thousands of new planet candidates that could increase the space agency's current figure of exoplanets. The craft is set to sweep the sky as it orbits the earth for two years.

"We're trying to summarize all of these lessons learned into a booster that then is able to fly and be recovered and fly again multiple times without a lot of refurbishment", said Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of build and flight reliability at SpaceX. "TESS is kind of like a scout", said Natalia Guerrero, deputy manager of TESS Objects of Interest, an MIT-led effort that will catalogue objects captured in TESS data that may be potential exoplanets.

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During this time, TESS will study and document 200,000 of the brightest stars near the sun to search for any transiting exoplanets.

"But it's not just quantity; it's quality as well - because the planets we do find will be bright enough and close enough to Earth that we really can do follow-up measurements with them". Further observations from ground telescopes can supply its mass and ultimately the planet's density and composition - whether largely solid, liquid or gas.

With Kepler running low on fuel and nearing the end of its life, TESS aims to pick up the search while focusing closer, on planets dozens to hundreds of light years away.

TESS will create a catalog of thousands of exoplanet candidates using this transit photometry method.

The moon's position is relevant in the novel type of orbit NASA has chosen for the TESS satellite.

While there has been no official confirmation from NASA or SpaceX of the new launch time, the 45th Space Wing (responsible for the Eastern Range) issued a forecast (PDF) for 2251 UTC on 18 April predicting a less than a 10 per cent chance of weather causing problems.

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