NASA successfully launched TESS from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9. The new satellite will search for other Earths.

So, NASA’s new planet-hunter is on its way to space aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will spot exoplanets via the “transit” method. Kepler telescope also uses this method.

TESS launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 6:52 p.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday. SpaceX also successfully landed the first-stage booster on a barge 300 miles offshore in the Atlantic.

The launch was a precision maneuver, with a brief 30-second window at 6:51 p.m. because the satellite had to get close to the Moon to use its gravity in achieving its final orbit.

SpaceX tweeted just before 10 a.m. that all systems and weather are go for launch. The weather remained good through early afternoon and NASA also tweeted “everything is progressing smoothly for the scheduled liftoff.”

About 48 minutes after launch, TESS and its four wide-field cameras designed to watch for planets passing in front of their host stars will be deployed.

However, the new satellite will not start hunting planets immediately. It will first settle into its orbit and then the spacecraft will complete about two months of testing. If everything goes right it’ll begin to survey a huge area of the sky to find potential Earth-like planets around nearby stars in our galaxy.

The spacecraft should be collecting data as early as June, which is just around the time that Kepler starts to go offline.

TESS will end up zipping around our planet once every 13.7 days.

NASA prepared TESS to do its job for two years, but engineers are already thinking about how to expand its mission.

The farthest point, or apogee, will be 232,000 miles (373,000 kilometers) from Earth. Thus, allowing the spacecraft to survey part of the sky without interference from the moon or our planet. The closest point in the orbit, or perigee, will be 67,000 miles (108,000 km), which is about three times the altitude of geosynchronous satellites. So, TESS will beam back information after every close encounter with Earth.

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Thumbnail image credit: SpaceX/Twitter

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