Alien and planet-hunting satellite successfully launches

Exoplanet Survey Satellite

TESS, which stands for Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, is a telescope/camera that will hunt for undiscovered worlds around nearby stars, providing targets where future studies will assess their capacity to harbor life, NASA says. The two-year survey mission is expected to find thousands of new exoplanets - planets orbiting stars other than our sun - orbiting in our neighborhood of the Milky Way galaxy.

Meanwhile, SpaceX's Falcon 9 first stage executed an autonomous burn and returned to Earth, making a controlled powered landing on the drone seabarge "Of Course I Still Love You" in the Atlantic Ocean.

One of the main sources of data on planets outside the Solar system in recent years has become a space telescope "Kepler". SpaceX has reused 11 of the first stages already, although this particular Falcon 9 rocket was new.

SpaceX carried the payload into orbit using a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral- launch complex 40. Once in-orbit testing has been completed, TESS will begin its initial two-year mission approximately 60 days after launch.

TESS, which stands for Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, is basically a giant wide-angle camera (four of them, actually) that will snap pictures of the night sky from a wide, eccentric and never before tried orbit. Here's how the two missions stack up, and how TESS will help us probe the pervasive question of whether we're alone in the universe. "The idea of finding other things on other planets sparks things in people", Robert Lockwood, TESS spacecraft manager at Orbital ATK, told Observer.

Scientists will conduct follow-up observations of exoplanet "candidates" using powerful ground- or space-based observatories. TESS principal investigator George Ricker, who is from the Massachusetts Institute of Technolgy said that "TESS is going to dramatically increase the number of planets that we have to study".

Stephen Rinehart is TESS project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "Until 20 years ago, we didn't know of any planets beyond our own solar system".

Like Kepler, TESS is created to locate exoplanets by searching for what astronomers call transits.

[For this mission] scientists divided the sky into 26 sectors. Ricker said not knowing is what makes the mission so exciting. "We've been working hand-in-hand with SpaceX to get to the certification to be able to fly the type of mission that TESS is", said Omar Baez, launch director for NASA's Launch Services Program, at the pre-launch briefing.

Although TESS's planet detection method is identical to Kepler's, the just-launched instrument will observe stars 10 times closer and 100 times brighter than those observed by its predecessor.

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