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Nasa's new planet-hunter to seek closer, Earth-like worlds

Nasa's new planet-hunter to seek closer, Earth-like worlds

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, is "in excellent health and remains ready for launch", SpaceX said on Twitter.

The Elon Musk-led aerospace company said Monday that it had postponed a scheduled Monday launch because it must conduct additional testing related to the mission's guidance, navigation, and control systems. There will be a program at 11.00 EDT providing an overview of the mission, followed by a pre-launch news conference at 13.30, a science news conference at 15.00 and then live coverage from Cape Canaveral between 18.00 and 20.00.

The washing machine-sized spacecraft is built to search the nearest, brightest stars for signs of periodic dimming. Of these, officials anticipate, 300 will be Earth-size exoplanets or double-Earth-size Super Earths.

When the Kepler space telescope launched in 2009, its target was to find planets between the size of Earth and Neptune, from 500 and 1500 light year away.

TESS is one of several important pieces of what NASA calls the "Exoplanet Missions", which got off the ground with the hugely successful Hubble Space Telescope.

"TESS is equipped with four very sensitive cameras that will be able to monitor almost the entire sky", said George Ricker, TESS principal investigator at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). That will enable it to have a long-term mission beyond its two-year objective.

Nasa is poised to launch a $337 million washing machine-sized spacecraft that aims to vastly expand mankind's search for planets beyond our solar system, particularly closer, Earth-sized ones that might harbour life.

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"The most interesting thing about these TESS discoveries is gonna be how close they are and the fact that their host stars are gonna be bright relative to those Kepler stars". "Kepler was a statistical survey that looked at a small patch of sky for four years and taught us that Earths are everywhere".

"So TESS takes the next step".

The name Tess is short for Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite.

TESS operates like the Kepler Observatory and other planet-hunters: It watches for stars that dim when a planet passes in front of them.

Life might be out there, whether microbial or more advanced, and scientists say Tess and later missions will help answer the age-old question of whether we're alone.

The Hubble Space Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch in 2020, should be able to reveal more about planets' mass, density and the makeup of their atmosphere - all clues to habitability.

"TESS is helping us explore our place in the universe", said Paul Hertz, Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters.

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