An artist’s conception shows the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. (NASA Illustration)
NASA and SpaceX are kicking off the next stage in the hunt for planets beyond our solar system with today’s scheduled launch of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS.
Liftoff aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled for 6:32 p.m. ET (3:32 p.m. PT) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Forecasters are setting the chances of acceptable weather at 80 percent, with strong winds listed as the main concern.
Coverage of the countdown is set to start at 6 p.m. ET (3 p.m. PT) on NASA’s streaming video channels, and SpaceX is planning a webcast as well. If the launch team misses today’s 30-second launch window, there’s a backup opportunity on Tuesday.
After launch, SpaceX will aim to land the Falcon 9’s first-stage booster on the deck of an autonomous landing ship stationed hundreds of miles out in the Atlantic Ocean.
The spacecraft, which is just a little smaller than a subcompact car, will be maneuvered into an unusual Earth orbit that ranges in altitude from roughly 63,000 to 200,000 miles. From that vantage point, TESS will keep tabs on 200,000 of the brightest stars in our celestial neighborhood, looking for the telltale changes in brightness that result when a planet crosses over the star’s disk.
That transit detection technique was pioneered by earlier probes such as NASA’s Kepler telescope, which was launched in 2009. Kepler stared at 250,000 distant stars in a cross-shaped area equal to 0.25 percent of the sky, and identified the signatures of more than 5,000 confirmed planets and candidates.
TESS’ four wide-field telescopic cameras will survey an area hundreds of times as wide, adding up to 85 percent of the entire sky. The $337 million mission will focus on planets circling bright stars …read more