NASA’s highly anticipated Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) finally launched onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Wednesday, April 18, at 6:51 p.m. ET.
The TESS satellite’s launch was originally planned for Monday, April 16, but, it was rescheduled to conduct additional Guidance Navigation and Control analysis. The technical glitch in the Falcon 9 rocket’s guidance-control system was detected almost two hours before the scheduled launch. TESS is the successor to NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope.
According to NASA, the main-stage booster separated from the upper part of the rocket within a few minutes of the launch. The Falcon 9’s first stage returned back to Earth for a successful touchdown on an unmanned SpaceX drone ship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.
TESS will take around 60 days to establish an orbit around Earth and begin its science mission.The satellite will remain in space for at least two years trying to discover thousands of exoplanets – planets outside the solar system- around nearby stars. It will use a detection method called transit photometry to scan the stars for signs of periodic dimming, which may mean that planets are orbiting around them.
The satellite’s main goal is to compile information related to so-called exoplanets that other telescopes can then focus in on for more detailed analysis. Scientists are hopeful that TESS will help detect around 20,000 exoplanets, with more than 50 expected to be Earth-sized.TESS will reportedly conduct a broad sky survey covering about 85 percent of the sky, all thanks to the four wide-field astronomical cameras onboard.
Once the spacecraft discovers the exoplanets, scientists will employ more powerful telescopes like the James Webb Space Telescope to learn more about them, looking for signs such as oxygen, methane, carbon dioxide and water vapor. The James Webb Space Telescope is currently scheduled to launch in May 2020.