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How to watch SpaceX launch NASA's new TESS planet hunter

16 April 2018

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. Of these, some 300 are expected to be Earth-sized and super-Earth-sized exoplanets, which are worlds no larger than twice the size of Earth. Such planets would be candidates for harboring life.

The NASA-funded, MIT-designed Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is hitching a ride on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

SpaceX also plans to recover the nose cone (also known as payload fairing) put up to shield the TESS satellite during liftoff, Koenigsmann added at the briefing.

NASA's never-ending quest to uncover distant extraterrestrial worlds will be boosted by SpaceX tonight with the launch of the TESS telescope spacecraft.

With Kepler running low on fuel and nearing the end of its life, TESS aims to pick up the search while focusing closer, on planets dozens to hundreds of light years away.

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Addressing the French parliament , Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Saturday's operation had not been the "prelude to a war". Jeremy Corbyn , leader of the main opposition Labour Party, has questioned the legal basis for Britain's involvement.

TESS scientists expect the mission to catalogue thousands of potential exoplanets. This will open the way to the even larger American space telescope, James Webb, which will follow in 2020.

NASA teased: "Launching Monday, our planet-hunting NASA TESS spacecraft will fly in a unique orbit that'll allow it to study almost the entire sky over two years. And it's going to build upon the legacy of the Kepler mission, only it's going to focus on nearby bright stars that are sprinkled across the whole sky and it's going to help us answer a really important question, and that is: which of our near-stellar neighbors has planets?", explained Elisa Quintana, NASA Astrophysicist.

By NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsNASA will carefully use the new TESS satellite to keep an eye on 200,000 of the closest stars in the galaxy. "The first thing is we're looking for water vapor", Seager said, "because all life, as we know it, needs liquid water". It's the beginning of a new era of exoplanet research. "It is time to take a step closer to meeting the neighbours", the USA space agency said. "So mass and size together give us an average planet density, which tells us a huge amount about what the planet is". It will collect about 27 gigabytes per day - that's about 6,500 song files - and send data back every two weeks.

Knowing what we know today about what lies beyond our solar system, estimates that "thousands" exoplanets will be discovered by TESS seem conservative. For instance, if scientists see methane alongside many other hydrogen-rich gases, the source is likely not biological, said Seager.

How to watch SpaceX launch NASA's new TESS planet hunter