NASA is on the hunt for new planets, and with luck, that journey will begin today. The NASA-funded, MIT-designed Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is hitching a ride on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The launch is expected to take place today at 6:32 p.m. ET.
When TESS reaches the stars, it will begin its ambitious hunt for alien worlds. Armed with four cameras, TESS will spend the next two years surveying the sky, studying some 20 million stars and the planets around them. The idea is that a few planets orbiting these stars may be similar to our own. Once those planets are identified by TESS, scientists can zoom in on them using other telescopes, study their atmospheres and atmospheric conditions, and even look for signs of habitability.
While Kepler embarked on a similar mission, advances in technology mean that TESS should be able to catalog thousands of these exoplanets. When finished, it’s expected that TESS will have surveyed 85% of the visible sky on its planet-hunting mission. Adding to the excitement for space nerds, this is the first NASA mission (that we know of) to hitch a ride on one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets, which was only certified for such missions back in February.
Launch coverage will begin at 6 p.m. ET on NASA’s website and will be hosted live from the Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.