TESS was developed to work with the still-existing James Webb Space Telescope, NASA's $ 8 billion successor to the famous Hubble. Webb, however, has suffered an additional delay and will not fly until May 2020. If both operate, those exoplanets suggesting TESS are promisingly sent to the Webb for deeper analysis, NASA officials said.

The TESS "specialty" will be the study of M-class stars or red dwarfs, the coolest and most common in the galaxy, and invisible to the naked eye. "Ninety percent of the stars we know in the Milky Way are redder and cooler than our Sun," said George Ricker Jr., the main TESS researcher and MIT researcher. "That's exactly what we wanted to do for this mission."

This cooler star was also the kind of scientific excitement in 2016 when European astronomers announced they had discovered several planets around TRAPPIST-1, a cool dwarf, 40 light-years away from Earth, much smaller than ours Sun. This system is high on the list of TESS goals.

Kepler also assisted in 2011 in discovering a planet orbiting two stars, called Kepler-16b, about 2,000 light-years from Earth. It was the first confirmation of a orbiting planet or one with two suns. (Kepler-16b also means that Luke Skywalker's home planet in Star Wars, Tatooine – and its double sunsets – has at least one scientific basis.)

The TESS team is aware of how their work – the beginnings of a classification of other planets – can guide how humankind determines which far-off worlds will host viable conditions.

Ricker said that 100 stars within 20 light years of Earth are likely to have planets. If researchers ever develop a way to travel at 20 percent of the speed of light (about 37,200 miles per second), Ricker estimates that a robotic mission can build up to an exoplanet on the work now being done.

TESS, he said Well, be the referee, from which planet we first explore.