NASA rocket with planet-hunting telescope launched

NASA rocket with planet-hunting telescope launched

NASA rocket with planet-hunting telescope launched

NASA said the countdown was uneventful "highlighted by excellent weather and healthy hardware".

NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has launched on the first-of-its-kind mission to find worlds beyond our solar system, including some that could support life.

NASA's next exoplanet-hunting telescope is preparing for launch.

It will survey a swathe of stars, hoping to detect worlds that might be capable of harboring life. The Tess satellite, meanwhile, kept heading toward orbit with help from the Falcon rocket's second stage. At 7:53 pm, the twin solar arrays that will power the spacecraft successfully deployed. The exoplanets they've seen so far are even wilder than the seven planets that neighbor us around the sun.

Tess team members reveled in today's smooth, photogenic flight through clear skies, and NASA officials were delighted to clear the way for a May 5 launch of the Mars lander, InSight, from California. "The Falcon 9 continues to demonstrate what a reliable vehicle it has become", Dunn said.

TESS will use six thruster burns to progressively elongate its orbits to reach the moon, which will give it a gravitational assist.

"When you come off the top of the rocket, all the fun for us spacecraft folks begins", Robert Lockwood, TESS spacecraft program manager for Orbital ATK, the company that built the satellite for NASA, said during a prelaunch news conference here on Sunday (April 15).

The mission was the first NASA space science mission launched by SpaceX. TESS will monitor thousands of stars simultaneously for such "transits", watching a single section of sky for a month straight before moving on to another.

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Tess will survey a huge number of stars, on the watch for dips in brightness that occur when orbiting planets cross past them.

Currently, the total exoplanet census stands at more than 3700, with another 4500 on the not-yet-verified list. "Now that Kepler showed us how many planets are out there, and also how many planets that could be like our own are out there, scanning the sky makes sense". Tess will be looking at stars that are between 30 and 300 light years away and up to 100 times brighter than what Kepler was staring at. The satellite will focus on the nearest and brightest stars.

Scientists have divided the sky into 26 sectors.

"TESS is equipped with four highly sensitive cameras, which will allow you to monitor nearly the entire sky", says George Ricker (George Ricker), principal investigator of the mission, of mit, who heads the project.

The Hubble Space Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch in 2020, should be able to reveal more about planets' mass, density and the makeup of their atmosphere - all clues to habitability.

NASA TESS is carrying wide-angle cameras in its mission of two years.

TESS is a NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission led and operated by MIT and managed by Goddard. Aside from its fuel, scientists said the moon's gravity will help it stay on orbit for the duration of its mission.

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