Follow along with NASA as it launches its next planet-hunting satellite

Follow along with NASA as it launches its next planet-hunting satellite

In terms of exoplanets, NASA's Kepler space telescope has observed more than 300,000 stars and found more than 4,000 exoplanet candidates since it launched in 2009. The Tess satellite will survey nearly the entire sky, staring at the brightest, closest stars in an effort to find any planets that might be encircling them.

The Transit Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, lifted off on schedule from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 6.51pm on Wednesday (local time), starting the clock on a two-year quest to detect more worlds circling stars beyond our solar system that might harbor life.

The satellite will be carried aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket into its orbit trajectory. In order to improve exoplanet detection capabilities, NASA, with backing from Google, awarded funding to a team from MIT to develop a new planet-hunting satellite.

NASA will then follow up with the US$8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope to determine whether or not these planets could be habitable. It will take two months for Tess to reach its final scientific orbit, which will stretch all the way to the moon. NASA's goal is to use TESS to look for more rocky, Earth-like habitable worlds in Goldilocks zones, after all, that are relatively close to our own.

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Once in orbit, the spacecraft will peer at hundreds of thousands of bright neighboring stars, seeking planets that might support life.

The planets discovered by Kepler are too distant and too faint for practical study.

The launch will be the eighth of the year for SpaceX, which most recently launched a resupply mission to the International Space Station on April 2.

Both NASA and SpaceX will be streaming the final stages of the countdown.

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A SpaceX Falcon rocket is set to blast off with the Tess satellite Wednesday evening from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Less than 10 minutes after launch, the rocket's first stage returned to an upright landing on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean, marking SpaceX's 24th touchdown of a rocket booster.

TESS will target 200,000 of the brightest stars in our celestial neighborhood, looking for the faint dimming of starlight as an exoplanet passes over a given star's disk.

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