NASA, Space X set to launch satellite TESS to hunt exoplanets

TONIGHT: Planet-hunting satellite launches from the Cape

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is determined to launch crewed spaceflights to the International Space Station from the U.S and for this reason, NASA has been looking for private commercial space launch companies to take over the launch of crewed spaceflights.

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.

TESS the planet hunter is getting ready to launch Monday. "One of the big surprises from Kepler was to find this whole population of planets with sizes between that of Neptune and Earth - and there aren't any in our solar system, zero - and they're everywhere out there", said Latham, who's worked on the Kepler project for almost 20 years.

The spacecraft is scheduled to launch on Monday, aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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An artist's conception of what TESS will look like in action. NASA has contracted both Boeing and SpaceX to pursue the crewed spaceflight launch in 2014. Until very recently, we knew of no other stars in the universe other than our own sun that are circled by planets. If it notices any decrease in a star's brightness ("a phenomenon known as a transit") it will be a sign a planet is orbiting it, which will then allow for further examination, especially by the James Webb Space Telescope launching in 2020. There are far more planets in the Milky Way than there are stars.

According to a report by Space.com, NASA's current exoplanet hunting observatory named Kepler, has nearly exhausted its fuel supply, requiring NASA to put TESS into orbit to continue research.

Ricker and other scientists said the planetary catalog generated by TESS could well become the guidebook for that armada.

For the next two years, TESS will survey the sky, breaking it into 26 sections, each 24 degrees by 96 degrees across, specficially looking for exoplanets that periodically block part of the light from their host stars. They have the right size and the right orbit of their star to support surface water and, at least theoretically, to support life. SpaceX indicated that the decision to skip a landing had to do with the fact that this particular Falcon 9 has already flown once before for another resupply mission to the space station in August.

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