SpaceX launching NASA's exoplanet-hunting spacecraft at 3:51 pm PDT

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Tess is flying on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, scheduled to launch at 4:51 p.m. MT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. TESS' discoveries will then be examined in greater detail by the James Webb Space Telescope, successor to the wildly successful Hubble, scheduled for launch in 2020.

Look up at the sky tonight. "With TESS, we're going to be able to get the masses for most of the planets and go the next step and study the composition of the atmospheres". But TESS will be gazing at star systems that are much closer than those studied by Kepler, Ricker said. "This is really a mission for the ages".

TESS' efforts will build on work done by the Kepler telescope, which has discovered more than 2,600 exoplanets, according to Even more candidates await confirmation. "We're going to find rocky planets, we're going to find gas planets, ice balls, and who knows what else?"

Further information about the planets will be gleaned by other telescopes during follow-up observations.

The IBM System/360 Model 75 mainframes running the mission from the Goddard Space Flight Center cost about $3.5 million each, measured their memory in megabytes, and dazzled with their ability to perform up to 750,000 additions per second.

TESS is expected to reveal 20,000 planets beyond our solar system, including more than 50 Earth-sized planets and up to 500 planets less than twice the size of the Earth, NASA said.

This unusual orbit means that TESS will have nearly a constant view of the stars, unobstructed by the Moon or Earth itself. Ricker said not knowing is what makes the mission so exciting. For each target, TESS will create a kind of flip-book of images that will tell the story of how the star's brightness changes over time.

Red dwarfs are the most common stars around and, as their name implies, relatively small.

Along with providing a handy graph line for Moore's Law, TESS also exemplifies how other technological advancements, among them AI, are feeding the space program.

Once in orbit, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or Tess, will peer at hundreds of thousands of bright neighboring stars, seeking planets that might support life.

ALIEN LIFE: Tess has no instruments capable of detecting life. The spacecraft aims to add thousands of exoplanets, or planets beyond our solar system, to the galactic map for future study. These so-called "transits" may mean that planets are in orbit around them.

"For me, just knowing they're there would be enough", Volosin said.