Launch of planet-hunting spacecraft scheduled for Wednesday evening

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite or TESS during assembly and checkout.               NASA

"We learned from Kepler that there are more planets than stars in our sky, and now TESS will open our eyes to the variety of planets around some of the closest stars", said Paul Hertz, Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters.

"NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite - TESS - will fly in an orbit that completes two circuits around Earth every time the Moon orbits once", the space agency explains.

An illustration of TESS in front of a lava planet orbiting its host star.

Its main goal over the next two years is to scan more than 200,000 of the brightest stars for signs of planets circling them and causing a dip in brightness known as a transit. It will use this technique to identify exoplanets relatively near to Earth that could be investigated by future telescopes, such as the James Webb. In addition, they hope to explore the atmospheres of these planets through spectroscopy, and search for evidence of life. Falcon 9's first stage previously supported the CRS-12 mission in August 2017 and Dragon previously supported the CRS-8 mission in April 2016. Missions like this have to be timed to the minute-the rocket has to be activated within a thirty-second window to get into the right orbit-and if the mission crew isn't sure that the payload will make it safely to space, things have to be called off until conditions improve.

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NASA said Monday that the "TESS spacecraft is in excellent health, and remains ready for launch".

Falcon 9 carries the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) that is worth $337 million.

Both NASA and SpaceX will be streaming the final stages of the countdown.

For more about TESS, check out our earlier story and the mission website. While it's fun to try and imagine, the reality is that TESS will probably discover things we can't even predict. The targets TESS finds are going to be fantastic subjects for research for decades to come.

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