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SpaceX launch of NASA's planet hunting satellite from Cape Canaveral delayed

17 April 2018

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite is NASA's next mission in the search for exoplanets, or those that are outside our solar system, and TESS will be on the lookout for planets that could support life.

An illustration of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite in space.

TESS is slated to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 6:32 p.m. EDT on April 16 aboard a 230-foot-tall Falcon 9 rocket.

You'll want to hang on after the launch and landing to see TESS officially get sent on its way when it is deployed about 48 minutes after launch.

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"These are the exoplanets that will be easiest to follow up, so that we can study the planets in great detail and learn more about their characteristics", Paul Hertz, who heads NASA's astrophysics division, said during a pre-launch briefing. "Putting stuff up in space is not without risk, but at this point there is nothing more we can do".

Tess is a successor to Kepler, a mission now close to the end of its fuel after a successful run in which it has identified 2,652 planets beyond our solar system, known as exoplanets, and...

The amount of starlight a planet blocks tells astronomers the world's size, while the frequency with which the planet passes in front of its star indicates the world's orbital period, said Shostak.

This is where Tess comes in. Like its predecessor, Tess is created to spot alien worlds by detecting the subtlest of shadows they cast as they move across the face of their parent stars. He says Kepler was really good at finding planets but not ones that scientists could study in detail. "Tess will find a pool of planets like that", added Seager. "We can understand how large the planet is and how far it orbits from its start to understand the context of the earth against all the other planets in the galaxy".

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The launch of the James Webb telescope, the most powerful space telescope to date, is now slated for 2020 and will continue research done by TESS. Since different gases absorb different light wavelengths, planet atmospheres can be pretty quickly determined, once viable candidates are found. "We call this the habitable zone".

NASA's Dr Martin Still said: "We expect to find a whole range of planet sizes between planets the size of Mercury or even the moon, our moon, to planets the same size as Jupiter and everything in between". The stars that TESS plans to survey will be 30 to 100 times brighter than those observed by its predecessor. This orbit maximizes the amount of sky the TESS spacecraft can image while keeping the spacecraft in a safe thermal and radiation environment.

'TESS will cast a wider net than ever before for enigmatic worlds whose properties can be probed by NASA's upcoming James Webb Space Telescope and other missions'. The first batches of data are expected to land in June, but researchers will work on the information for months before making results public.

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SpaceX launch of NASA's planet hunting satellite from Cape Canaveral delayed