SpaceX TESS Launch at 6:32 am Today, NASA in search of more exoplanets

Illustration of NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite -- TESS -- in front of a lava planet orbiting its host star.(NASA) NASA

Meteorologists with the US Air Force 45th Space Wing have predicted an 80 percent chance of favorable weather for SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket's launch with NASA's payload Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) aimed at detecting more exoplanets.

The launch is scheduled for Sunday at 6.32 p.m. local time on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, said NASA in a statement late Saturday.

The launch window is just 30 seconds and weather not favourable, the liftoff will be deferred by two more weeks when the moon comes nearer to the Earth. The launch is linked to moon's gravitation pull, which is essential for placing TESS in its unique orbit that nobody tried in the past, said scientists.

Joel Villasenor, an MIT researcher and instrument scientist for TESS explains, "The moon pulls the satellite on one side, and by the time TESS completes one orbit, the moon is on the other side tugging in the opposite direction. The overall effect is the moon's pull is evened out, and it's a very stable configuration over many years. Nobody's done this before, and I suspect other programs will try to use this orbit later on."

The Transit Exoplanet Survey Satellite is a successor to the Kepler, which has already located thousands of exoplanets over a decade. Unlike Kepler's telephotos aimed at dim targets far in the distance, TESS has an ultra-wide-angle lens to scan the entire visible sky.

Whee to watch live?

Prelaunch mission coverage will begin on NASA Television and the agency's website Sunday, April 15, with three live briefings. For more details, click on Twitter link below:

Whenever a planet passes between the Earth and a star, the brightness of that star temporarily dims, enabling scientists to measure the dimness and determine its size, speed, and other features.

As of 2016, Kepler confirmed the presence of 1,284 new planets and TESS will watch for the same in a broader horizon. TESS camera array has four 16.4-megapixel imaging units, each covering a square of sky 24 degrees across.

With a 13.7-day orbits in each segment, TESS will cover 13 segments in the sky's Northern hemisphere and then move to scan 13 in the southern hemisphere, thus covering 85 percent of the sky. Essentially, the brightest stars less than 300 light-years away and 30 to 100 times as bright as the ones Kepler captured will be scanned by TESS, an approximately $337 million mission.

Stephen Rinehart, a TESS project scientist at NASA, said:"The targets TESS finds are going to be fantastic subjects for research for decades to come. It's the beginning of a new era of exoplanet research." Scientists are confident that they might find some rare phenomenon soon.

This article was first published on April 15, 2018