Watch SpaceX launch NASA's new planet-hunting satellite here

TESS Mission - NASA Blogs

The TESS mission is created to build on the work of its predecessor, the Kepler space telescope, which has discovered the bulk of some 3,700 exoplanets documented during the past 20 years and is running out of fuel. Together with its northern-hemisphere counterpart in Arizona, US, the observatory will scour the skies for new worlds.

The $337 million space telescope is no larger than a refrigerator but it has a big mission ahead, as it will search for alien worlds around stars and planets.

Tess won't look for life directly, but will instead scout for planets of all sorts, especially those in the so-called Goldilocks or habitable zone of a star: an orbit where temperatures are neither too cold nor too hot, but just right for life-nourishing water to exist in liquid form. That is around 70% of the planets that is thought to be outside our solar system.

Launching occurred with a two-day delay due to a last-minute technical problem.

TESS separated from the Falcon's second stage less than an hour after lift-off and anxious boffins at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center were relieved to see the solar arrays of the spacecraft deploy and telemetry make its way to the ground stations.

As Ricker says, "TESS will tell us where to look at and when to look". "It's the beginning of a new era of exoplanet research", Rinehart added.

The James Webb Space Telescope will, at $ €8 billion, be the most expensive and powerful telescope ever built, and Irish scientists are key to its success. In the meantime, other telescopes will be used to measure the masses of the TESS planets, which will help astronomers calculate their densities and compositions and determine when a planet transitions from rocky, like Earth, to something that's gassy, like Neptune. And since SpaceX has expressed a desire to launch missions beyond our solar system in the future, the company may use the data collected by TESS to figure out which distant star is worthy of a visit. Wednesday's launch brings its 2018 tally to eight. A science team devoted to TESS at MIT aims to measure the masses of at least 50 small exoplanets that have a radius of less than four times that of Earth - an ideal dimension that could suggest habitability. These include hundreds of planets that are less than twice the size of Earth.

"Wow, are we excited".

But exoplanets aren't the only intriguing objects that TESS has set its sights on.

Unlike Kepler, which stared at a single patch of starry sky for most of its primary mission, TESS will be looking all over. Lisa Kaltenegger, director of the Carl Sagan Institute at Cornell, hopes that the journey taken by TESS will prove that there are planets that could potentially support life. "So it's got to be there somewhere".


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