NASA launches planet-finding satellite

The Hindu explains: NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite

For the second time this week, NASA will attempt to launch its Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite - TESS - aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

NASA's latest astrophysics instrument will be carried aloft by a Falcon 9 rocket from the fleet of billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk's private launch service, Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX.

Like Kepler, TESS will use a detection method called transit photometry, which looks for periodic, repetitive dips in the visible light of stars caused by planets passing, or transiting, in front of them.

Most of the exoplanets we know about today were identified by Kepler, a planet-hunting mission carried out by the Kepler spacecraft.

Once on its way, NASA hopes TESS will create a database consisting of thousands of new planet candidates. The spacecraft will scan nearly the entire sky searching for planets transiting- or passing- in front of their stars.

"NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite - TESS - will fly in an orbit that completes two circuits around Earth every time the Moon orbits once", the space agency explains.

NASA will then follow up with the US$8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope to determine whether or not these planets could be habitable. In addition, the company recently received authorization to construct its BFR (Big Falcon Rocket) launch vehicle in a facility on the coast of LA.

This mission's navigation includes getting the satellite close to the Moon, so it can slingshot around and enter an elliptical orbit.

TESS's launch was originally scheduled for yesterday, but was rescheduled for tonight after weather concerns put the safety of the launch into question. 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. Going into this week's launch, SpaceX's record stood at 23 successful recoveries, 11 on land and 12 on automated droneships.

The launch will be broadcast live on NASA TV.

For more about TESS, check out our earlier story and the mission website. Zooming in on the new worlds and other objects of interest that TESS finds will occupy astronomers-and probably imaginations-for many years to come.

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