SpaceX Properly launches NASA's TESS hunter

Solar panels are deployed on NASA's TESS satellite in the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at Kennedy Space Center

After a two-day launch delay caused by issues with the rocket's onboard guidance and navigation control systems, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, successfully blasted off.

TESS will begin a two-year planet hunting mission, searching our solar-system for other alien worlds.

The TESS is created to scout for planets of all sorts, especially those within the Goldilocks zone, an orbit of possible habitable stars where temperatures are not too hot and not too cold - not whether life exists beyond Earth. About 10 minutes later, the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket landed back on Earth, touching down on a drone ship off the Florida coast. Scientists expect Tess to identify thousands of planets in our cosmic backyard, adding to the bounty provided over the past decade by NASA's Kepler Space Telescope. SpaceX has reused 11 of the first stages already, although this particular Falcon 9 rocket was new.

The launch was a precision maneuver, with a brief 30-second window at 6:51 p.m. EDT because the satellite had to get close to the moon to use its gravity in achieving its final orbit.

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After approximately 60 days of check-out and instrument testing, the spacecraft will begin its work, the United States space agency added.

The planned launch of TESS comes on the heels of NASA delaying the liftoff of its hotly-anticipated James Webb Space Telescope.

NASA Ames' Pleiades supercomputer, one of the most powerful systems in the world, has the power to process TESS's biweekly data deluge of nearly 10 billion pixels in three to five days, a cadence that enables SPOC to keep up with the volume of incoming data.

The technique it will use is fundamentally the same as that employed by NASA's long-running and highly successful Kepler mission.

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"TESS is going to dramatically increase the number of planets that we have to study", TESS principal investigator George Ricker, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said during a pre-launch briefing".

For a crash course on TESS and its mission, check out the above video.

According to the institute, Tess will detect "tiny dips" in the light from a star as orbiting planets block some of the star's light from reaching us. For this two-year survey mission, scientists divided the sky into 26 sectors. "We know that planets in principle exist there", says Ricker, "but there's really not much more we can say other than that they exist'".

TESS will search for a sky area about 350 times larger than Kepler and will focus on smaller, cold and faint stars than our Sun, the red dwarfs, which make up about 90% of the stars of our galaxy. TESS's four wide-field cameras were developed by MIT's Lincoln Laboratory.

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