NASA plans to launch its newest planet-hunting satellite Monday evening


According to the latest forecast from the U.S. Air Force 45th Weather Squadron, there is an 80% chance of favorable weather for the launch. Eastern Daylight Time on Monday, April 18, 2018, from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Following stage separation, the first stage of the Falcon 9 will attempt a landing on the "Of Course I Still Love You" drone ship.

Kepler found a massive trove of exoplanets by focusing on one patch of sky, which contained about 150,000 stars like the Sun. The $337 million mission will focus on planets circling bright stars that are less than 300 light-years from Earth. Once these exoplanets are detected, using the known planet size, orbit and mass, TESS and ground-based follow-up team will be able to determine the planets' compositions.

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TESS will survey far more cosmic terrain than its predecessor, NASA's Kepler Space Telescope which launched in 2009, taking in some 85% of the skies. This is the first time that humans have used an orbiting surveyor to search almost the entire sky for new planets, compared to previous efforts that have scanned just a tiny percentage of what we can see. The MIT researchers behind the project expect to catalog thousands of new planets smaller than Neptune, and perhaps dozens comparable to Earth, which can then be studied with other instruments.

"These are the exoplanets that will be easiest to follow up, so that we can study the planets in great detail and learn more about their characteristics", Paul Hertz, who heads NASA's astrophysics division, said during a pre-launch briefing.

Nasa predicts that TESS will discover 20,000 exoplanets - or planets outside the solar system - including more than 50 Earth-sized planets and up to 500 planets less than twice the size of Earth.

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The Falcon 9 used in today's mission has never been launched before, though, if it lands successfully, it reportedly will be used in a future mission.

Ricker said: 'TESS is going to dramatically increase the number of planets that we have to study. If there is a possibility of a habitable planet, TESS will report about it.

Like Kepler, TESS will serve as a planetary population census giving astronomers a better idea as to the origin and evolution of planetary systems - including our own.

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