Sci-tech

SpaceX to launch NASA's TESS spacecraft on Wednesday

SpaceX to launch NASA's TESS spacecraft on Wednesday

Barring any unforeseen setbacks, SpaceX will launch NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) at 6:51 p.m Eastern on Wednesday.

But the primary goal of the flight was to launch NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, a relatively modest spacecraft equipped with four state-of-the-art digital cameras created to measure the light from millions of stars in search of the tell-tale dimming that occurs when an exoplanet moves in front, or "transits".

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After launch, NASA's new planet hunter is expected to be in its highly elliptical orbit searching for new worlds by June. The project is led by astronomers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

However, TESS will deploy a slightly different approach to planet-hunting. In addition, they hope to explore the atmospheres of these planets through spectroscopy, and search for evidence of life. TESS is basically a continuation of the same work that the Kepler Space Telescope is famous for.

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During its two-year primary mission, TESS will expand the search across 85 percent of the sky, on the lookout for Earth-size or slightly larger worlds worthy of follow-on studies by NASA's James Webb Space Telescope and other ground- and space-based instruments now under development. Missions like this have to be timed to the minute-the rocket has to be activated within a thirty-second window to get into the right orbit-and if the mission crew isn't sure that the payload will make it safely to space, things have to be called off until conditions improve. As scheduled, it will be launched from pad 40 as soon as possible wherein forecasters predicted favorable weather during the launch day.

For more about TESS, check out our earlier story and the mission website. While the Kepler spacecraft focused on small fields of view for long periods of time, TESS will take a wider, more comprehensive view. While it's fun to try and imagine, the reality is that TESS will probably discover things we can't even predict.

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