SpaceX launches NASA's TESS to hunt for alien worlds and habitable planets

NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has deployed successfully in space, at the start of a mission that will survey virtually the entire sky for exoplanets, before ground-based telescopes use spectroscopy to search for signs of extra-terrestrial life. Tess will spend about two years surveying 200,000 of the brightest stars near the Sun to search for planets outside our solar system.

Zurbuchen said: "We are thrilled Tess is on its way to help us discover worlds we have yet to imagine, worlds that could possibly be habitable, or harbour life". If such a dip is detected, scientists can then ascertain if the planet warrants further study by telescopes and other instruments that are able to measure the change in light in more precise detail.

"Following stage separation, SpaceX will attempt to land Falcon 9's first stage on the "Of Course I Still Love You" droneship, which will be stationed in the Atlantic Ocean", SpaceX says.

One of the main sources of data on planets outside the Solar system in recent years has become a space telescope "Kepler". The Falcon 9 placed TESS into a highly elliptical orbit, and the spacecraft will use its own propulsion to move into its final orbit, a stable high Earth orbit in a 2:1 resonance with the moon, by mid-June.

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) launched yesterday at 6:51 p.m.

That mindset is a huge shift, and one TESS will continue. TESS principal investigator George Ricker, who is from the Massachusetts Institute of Technolgy said that "TESS is going to dramatically increase the number of planets that we have to study".

At 11.51pm United Kingdom time yesterday, Musk's SpaceX firm sent one of its Falcon 9 rockets into orbit carrying Nasa's new satellite-telescope, Reuters reports.

TESS will also pave the way for followup observations of the planets it finds.

For its planned two-year mission, astronomers divided the sky into 26 sectors.

TESS will observe "transits", or the phenomena when a planet passes in front of its star, changing the star's brightness.

TESS will use the same transit method Kepler used to find planets.

"TESS will tell us where to look at and when to look", Mr Ricker said.

The total exoplanet census stands at more than 3,700 confirmed, with another 4,500 on the not-yet-verified list. Aside from its fuel, scientists said the moon's gravity will help it stay on orbit for the duration of its mission.

But the Tess strategy is different as it is a wide-field survey with its cameras scanning big strips of the sky over 27-day periods. 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.