SpaceX has launched NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), that is designed to look for exoplanets and alien worlds after delays pushed the initial launch date by two days.
SpaceX carried the payload into orbit using a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral- launch complex 40. TESS will now use elongated orbits and six thruster burns to get to the Moon. Once it reaches its final orbit, it will undergo 60 days of instrument testing, says NASA. Its main mission will then begin.
SpaceX tweeted that TESS was successfully deployed in its unusually elliptical orbit soon after launch. The first stage of the Falcon was reported to have landed on the drone ship 'Of Course I Still Love You in the Atlantic'. This marks the 24th consecutive landing for a Falcon 9 stage one.
"One critical piece for the science return of TESS is the high data rate associated with its orbit," said George Ricker, TESS principal investigator at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research in Cambridge. "Each time the spacecraft passes close to Earth, it will transmit full-frame images taken with the cameras. That's one of the unique things TESS brings that was not possible before."
The main mission of TESS is to survey 200,000 nearby stars and look for transiting exoplanets. Over the next two years, the satellite will break down the night sky into 26 different sectors, each about 24 degrees by 96 degrees. The on board four wide-field cameras some of the most powerful ever sent to space, will stare at each sector for 27 days at a time, spending 2 minutes at each star within it.
In the first year of observation, TESS will look at the 13 southern sectors and the following year, it will look for exoplanets in the northern 13 sectors. From Earth's point of view, the mission will cover about 85 percent of the night sky, says NASA. Using the transit method –planets passing in front of stars will temporarily block light coming from it– the Kepler mission was able to identify more than 2,600 planets that are between 300 and 3,000 light years away. Tess will be looking at stars that are between 30 and 300 light years away and up to 100 times brighter than what Kepler was staring at.