NASA, SpaceX prepare for April 16 launch of planet-hunting spacecraft

TESS will be launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
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TESS is slated to launch from Cape Canaveral on Monday, April 16, aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

Set to lift off in the next few days, NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), is making significant strides. The planet-hunting spacecraft is slated to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 on Monday, April 16, aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

Soon thousands of stars, perhaps millions, will soon come under the powerful gaze of TESS. The spacecraft was sealed within the Falcon 9 payload fairing in preparation for its move to the launch pad, inside Kennedy Space Center’s Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility. The satellite is the next step in NASA’s search for planets outside our solar system, known as exoplanets.

TESS scientists expect the mission will catalogue thousands of planet candidates and vastly increase the current number of known exoplanets. Of these, approximately 300 are expected to be Earth-sized and super-Earth-sized exoplanets, which are worlds no larger than twice the size of Earth, the Space agency said.

According to NASA, the stars TESS will study are 30 to 100 times brighter than those the Kepler mission and K2 follow-up surveyed. TESS will also cover a sky area 400 times larger than that monitored by Kepler. In addition to its search for exoplanets, TESS will allow scientists from the wider community to request targets for astrophysics research on approximately 20,000 additional objects.

TESS is a NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission led and operated by MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland although NASA’s Launch Services Program is responsible for launch management. More than a dozen universities, research institutes and observatories worldwide are participants in the mission.