US space agency NASA will launch its much-anticipated Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite on Monday in a bid to look for life beyond earth.
The spacecraft is not only capable of spotting planets that are outside our solar system, but can also generate rich data about exoplanets. For instance, the TESS could be used to identify potential evidence of other life forms.
Set to be sent into space on today attached to a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, it will take a number of burns and two months to get to its lunar flyby orbit stage.
Once it completes this journey, the satellite should go into a state of highly elliptical orbit and remain here for around 20 years. However, despite this, the duration of the mission is only two years at the moment.
"NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite is an all-sky survey mission that will discover thousands of exoplanets around nearby bright stars," explains the space agency.
"TESS is scheduled for launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket no earlier than April 16, 2018, and no later than June 2018."
Just like the Kepler spacecraft launched by NASA in March 2009, TESS will scan the galaxies for exoplanets. These are planets outside of the Milky Way that orbit other stars.
To identify them, TESS will probe faraway stars for interesting data about their brightness. In particular, it will lookout for any dips, which could suggest nearby planets.
Although Kepler and TESS use similar technology, the former is capable of scanning for stars and planets 3,000 light years away from earth. But the distance of TESS is capped at 300 light years.
That does not mean it is less effective. Rather, NASA is simply looking for exoplanets that happen to be closer to earth, and thanks to a four-camera array, it will be able to consider all directions.
Through TESS, scientists will attempt to track super-earths - these are planets that could support life. They are usually larger than earth, but smaller than Neptune.
By the end of the two-year experiment, the researchers believe that they will have monitored 85 per cent of the galaxies nearest to earth.
On Sunday, NASA confirmed: "The planned liftoff of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, remains scheduled for 6:32 p.m. EDT Monday from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
"Meteorologists with the U.S. Air Force 45th Space Wing continue to predict an 80 percent chance of favorable weather for liftoff."
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