CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla (Reuters) – SpaceX said that all systems and weather on Wednesday were "going off" for two days with a missile guidance system for NASA's first high-priority science mission, a planet-hunt space telescope whose launch was delayed.
The Transit Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, was due to leave Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 18:51. EDT launches the watch on a two-year Seek to discover more worlds orbiting stars beyond our solar system that could harbor life.
NASA's latest astrophysics instrument will be carried by a Falcon 9 rocket from the private launch service fleet of billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, Space Exploration Technologies or SpaceX.
The California-based company has previously launched cargo missions and other payloads for NASA, but TESS is the first to be awarded a special certification by SpaceX for the Space Agency's scientific tools.
The TESS mission was developed to build on the work of its predecessor, the Kepler Space Telescope, which has uncovered the bulk of some 3,700 exoplanets documented over the last 20 years and fuel is scarce.
NASA expects to locate thousands of previously unknown worlds, perhaps hundreds of them the size of Earth or the "Super Earth" – no larger than twice as large as our home planet.
It is believed that these are most likely to have rocky surfaces or oceans and are therefore considered the best candidates for the development of life. Scientists said they hope that TESS will ultimately help catalog at least 100 more rocky exoplanets for further study in one of the newest research areas of astronomy.
About the size of a refrigerator with solar panels, equipped with four special cameras, TESS needs about 60 days to reach a highly elliptical, groundbreaking orbit between the Earth and the Moon every two hours -1/2 weeks.
Like Kepler, TESS will use a detection method called transit photometry, which looks for periodic, repetitive, visible-light collapses of stars caused by planets passing or passing them.
TESS will focus on 200,000 preselected stars that are relatively close together – some of them are only tens of light-years away – and thus the brightest seen from Earth. This makes them better suited for a sensitive follow-up.
TESS will focus on stars called Red Dwarfs, smaller, cooler, and more durable than our Sun. Red dwarfs also have a high propensity for Earth-like, probably rocky, planets, making them a potentially fertile ground for further study.
Reporting by Joey Roulette of Cape Canaveral, Florida; Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Arrangement by Cynthia Osterman