NASA satellite to launch will seek new exoplanets

Nasa’s new planet-hunter to seek Earth-like worlds

Orbiting between the Earth and the moon, TESS will survey almost the entire sky for comparatively brighter and closer stars - some dozens to hundreds of light years away - than Kepler saw.

Aboard SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, the Monday (16 April) launch of TESS was aborted in the final hours as the company looked to make absolutely sure it avoids any costly catastrophe.

Shortly after the launch, SpaceX will attempt to land the rocket's first stage on a robotic ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

TESS was originally scheduled to launch aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Monday from the Kennedy Space Station in Florida, but SpaceX announced Monday afternoon that the launch time is being pushed back for additional tests.

NASA insists there's no chance of Tess hitting any other satellites or running into the moon, which should never be anywhere close.

The spacecraft is meant to be maneuvered into an unusual Earth orbit that ranges in altitude from roughly 63,000 to 200,000 miles.

The spacecraft will be looking for a phenomenon known as a transit, where a planet passes in front of its star, causing a periodic and regular dip in the star's brightness. Kepler stared at 250,000 distant stars in a cross-shaped area equal to 0.25 percent of the sky, and identified the signatures of more than 5,000 confirmed planets and candidates. The mission will focus on planets circling bright stars that are less than 300 light-years from Earth.

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The TESS mission is expected to pinpoint thousands more previously unknown worlds, out of which hundred may be Earth-sized or no larger than twice the size of Earth as such planets would be most likely to feature rocky surfaces or oceans, making them more hospitable to life forms.

NASA scientists are also hosting a Reddit AMA over on r/science.

The stars TESS will study are 30 to 100 times brighter than those the Kepler mission and K2 follow-up surveyed, which will enable far easier follow-up observations with both ground-based and space-based telescopes.

"I don't think you'll see much in the way of clouds at all, so it should be good viewing conditions, as long as those winds do drop off", said Mike McAleenan, the launch weather officer from the Air Force's 45th Weather Squadron. Bigger and more powerful observatories of the future will scrutinize these prime candidates for potential signs of life. With Tess, "our planetary census is going to move in" closer to us, MIT researcher Jenn Burt said Sunday.

When active, TESS will collect 27GB of scientific data every day before being put through NASA's specialist algorithms, which are created to clean up the signal to remove any background interference.

The first public release of processed data is planned for early in 2019, NASA said. "But I want to add that we care about all the planets that we find, not just the habitable ones - because for a variety of reasons, all the planets matter".

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