SpaceX rocket launches NASA's planet-hunting spacecraft

Falcon 9 launch set for 6:51 p.m. from Cape Canaveral


CAPE CANAVERAL Fla. – After a two-day delay, SpaceX launched its Falcon 9 rocket Wednesday evening carrying NASA's next exoplanet hunter, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, known as TESS. Read the full launch story here.


The commercial space company tweeted "all systems and weather are go for Falcon 9’s launch" of TESS  at 6:51 p.m. EDT from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40.

Weather is excellent with less than a 10 percent chance of causing a delay, according to forecasters with the Air Force 45th Weather Squadron. The primary weather concern is cumulus clouds.

The first launch attempt on Monday evening was delayed after SpaceX officials said they needed more time for additional analysis of the guidance navigational control system, which is the software that makes sure the rocket stays stable.

After the launch, SpaceX plans to land the Falcon 9's first stage on a droneship in the Atlantic Ocean.

TESS, an MIT-led NASA mission, is expected to discover thousands of Earth-size planets outside our solar system, known as exoplanets. The spacecraft will scan almost the entire sky searching for planets transiting-- or passing-- in front of their stars.

“It’s going to look for small dips in the starlight from those when a planet crosses in front of them and blocks out a small amount of that light.” MIT TESS researcher Natalia Guerrero said.

The mission will build on NASA’s Kepler spacecraft, which is coming to an end as the probe runs out of fuel. TESS will scan an area 350 times greater than Kepler.

[Read more News 6 TESS coverage: How long would it take to travel to neighboring solar systems? | Central Florida experts discuss exoplanet discoveries

Tess is "small but mighty," according to the MIT team. The spacecraft equipped with four cameras to find new worlds, is a few meters high and only takes up a fraction of the Falcon 9's 43-foot tall nose cone.

After launch, NASA’s new planet hunter is expected to be in its highly elliptical orbit searching for new worlds by June.

Follow live launch updates from Kennedy Space Center below.


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